Preparing for the Health Inspector

By Chef Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE

Instructors know sooner or later their student graduates will receive a visit from the health inspector. Ironically, it seems this happens to my former students within the first few weeks at their first job. One time, my former student’s new employer walked him to his station. He had been on the job less than 10 minutes when a health inspector tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “Where’s your sanitation bucket?”

The first thing students need to be taught about health inspectors is they are not adversaries. Health inspectors are there to make sure the kitchen is serving safe food to the guests. They are not there to punish, criticize, sanction, etc. Health inspectors tell me they prefer to educate and they would rather have the kitchen management and workers fix the mistakes and problems BEFORE they arrive. In order to do this, inspectors need to educate kitchen staff about problems so they know what needs to be fixed.

The second thing to teach your students is how to politely and affirmatively tell the health inspector when she/he comes to visit that they are new employees and they would be happy to get the general manager, chef, sous chef or kitchen manager for the inspection. If the inspector asks a question, the former student (now brand new employee of a commercial kitchen) should politely say, “Inspector, let me get the general manager or chef for you.” Related to this is that your students need to be taught that the health inspector does not need a warrant to come in and can basically visit and inspect the premises anytime and in any manner she/he wants. Most jurisdictions have the commercial kitchen agree to this as part of the business license or health permit process. In other words, your students need to be taught not to hinder nor hamper the inspector.

Note: In many counties, the health inspector is not allowed to accept anything from the kitchen. So, also teach your students not to offer water or coffee to the inspector before the student goes to get the chef or manager. (The health inspectors with whom I’ve discussed this with say they find it more than a tad insulting that people think they will do a false inspection because of coffee or water–but that is the rule.)

Third, your student should ask the chef or general manager if she/he can tag along with the inspector. Also ask the same thing of the inspector. A smart chef or GM will encourage this because if the new employee learns what the inspector looks at and what she/he examines and tests, then that person will be better able to keep the kitchen up to the approved level.

Fourth, your students should be taught never to argue with the inspector. Basically, instead of saying “Yes, Chef,” the student should say “Yes, Inspector.” For example, if the inspector says, “When you crack an egg, you can’t put the shells back into the tray with the uncracked eggs,” the answer should be “Yes, Inspector,” and then do it. The answer shouldn’t be, “But, the chef said it’s okay to do it this way.” (Actually, one of my students became an inspector and she said it is amazing how many times she hears, “My mom does it that way.”)

Fifth is that students need to be taught that she/he should only sign the report if no one more senior is available. And, if your student does have to sign the inspection report, then she/he should give it to the chef, sous chef or GM right away.

So, speaking of inspectors, every health inspector has their own key points for which they look. After years of talking with them, here is a fairly consistent list, in no order of importance, of their top 10 items to check:

  • Cleanliness of the commercial can opener.
  • Proper chemical disbursement and concentration to the dishwasher and in the tri-compartment sink.
  • Proper cooking and holding temperatures. (Many inspectors will ask the employees to tell them the proper temperatures of prepared food at their station.)
  • No used towels laying around. All not perfectly clean towels need to go into a sanitation bucket with the proper amount of sanitizer.
  • Proper temperatures of the refrigeration and freezer storage areas. No food or food containers placed on the floor. Items sorted, particularly in the walk-in and/or refrigerators, be stored in a way to avoid cross contamination.
  • No holes in ceilings, walls, floors and doors. Screens on the windows and doors.
  • Clean floor drains.
  • Soap, paper towels, trash can, nail scrubber and hot water at the hand sink station. (And, never use the hand sink station for prep or for washing dishes, etc.)
  • Proper food handling, including potential dangerous foods. No cross-contamination.
  • Proper cooling of large batches of food.

In August 2016 I published an article on Food Safety Basics. You might want to have your students review it before they complete your class because sooner or later the health inspector will arrive.


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