The Value of an A on Your Next Health Inspection
Many operators view the health inspection process as a burden, however it is a big part of owning and running a restaurant. Inspections tend to be broad, intrusive and include many aspects of your business. Inspections review your physical plant (i.e. plumbing, equipment and flooring); licenses, permits and paperwork; food handling including delivery, storing, cooking, holding, serving and discarding; and finally, cleanliness.
Successful operators have always spent time and money to incorporate food safety and sanitation programs into their daily operations to avoid the monetary fines, legal fees and bad public relations that can result from critical violations.
Additionally, we now live in the age of the educated consumer who has more information at their fingertips than ever before. Often in major cities there are websites and mobile apps that allow consumers to look up health inspection results before making their dining choices; not having an A grade can dissuade potential customers from visiting your restaurant.
Here are 4 basic steps to institute a food safety and sanitation program in your restaurant:
Know the Code – The food safety and sanitation code is set at the federal level by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is usually updated every three years. The FDA codes are then interpreted and regulations are set at the state and municipal level. These local regulations are often more strict than the federal guidelines and can change frequently. Also, local health departments tend to focus on hot-button issues such as recent Trans fat bans, ice as food and consumer allergy notifications. It is your obligation as a restaurant owner to know the most current regulations in your county or town, and remain in compliance.
Work with your Local Health Department – Ignoring your local health department won’t make them go away or make your life any easier. Quite the opposite – fighting with the health department can make your life miserable. Actively work with your local health department to ensure you are in compliance from the start, which can save time and money during construction or renovation. If your local health department provides training and audit programs, take advantage of these offerings.
During your inspections, do not be adversarial or belligerent with the inspector – they are just doing their job and following objective standards. If they cite you for a violation, fix it immediately, in front of them if possible. If you do not understand why something is a violation, ask. The inspectors should be able to give a full explanation to you and your staff as to why a certain action has the potential to make a guest sick.
Train, Train and Retrain Your Staff – As we have discussed many times before, proper staff training is the key to any restaurant’s success; food safety and sanitation training is no different. While some critical violations can come from your physical plant, the vast majority of violations result from employees’ improper actions. Though it is not necessary for everyone on your staff to hold a food handler’s license, your entire team from dishwasher to bartender is responsible for food safety and sanitation in your restaurant.
A strong food safety and sanitation module during employee on-boarding is crucial to reduce behaviors that result in critical violations. Additionally, restaurants should be incorporating daily food safety and sanitation reminders into regular meetings, pre-service meetings and debriefings after every shift.
Hold Your Staff Accountable - Create a culture of accountability in relation to food safety and sanitation in your restaurant. Daily checks and walk-through’s by managers keep this important issue top of mind for everyone. As unsexy as food safety and sanitation is, repetition is the only way to make changes in behavior stick. Repeatedly explaining to employees why an action or inaction can make a guest sick will eventually change their behavior and allow them to know when to take self-corrective action. Incorporating food safety and sanitation into opening and closing duties, job responsibilities and performance reviews holds everyone accountable.
Passing your health inspection with flying colors takes hard work and dedication. The return on your investment is worth every minute and penny, as we see a direct correlation between great health inspection scores and an increase in restaurant sales. Don’t let something that you can directly control be the downfall of your restaurant. The bad public relations of a health department violation or shut down, often highlighted in your local newspaper, are nearly impossible to recover from.
If you are doing all of these steps, but still struggling with food safety and sanitation, consider hiring an outside consultant. A consultant can often see through the emotional drama of your business to find the root cause of your problem. Consultants can also perform regular sanitation evaluations or walk-through’s to get you ready so your inspections aren't a surprise.
Don’t know where to begin? 4Q Consulting can develop customized business and operational guidelines to help you start and run your business. Email us today for a free business consultation at www.4qconsult.com.
All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2014-2015.
Noelle E. Ifshin, President, 4Q Consulting, LLC 244 5th Avenue, Suite 1430, NY, NY 10001