Avoid these common mistakes and ace your inspections

Take a quick look around while your kitchen. Are you good with what you see?

June 29

When it comes to health inspections, many, if not most, inspectors will spot the obvious infractions. “A health inspector’s job is to help you prevent your customers from becoming ill from a foodborne illness,” says Patrick Guzzle, vice president of Food Science and Industry for the National Restaurant Association.


“If you look at your operation as though through the eyes of an inspector, you’re more likely to see the areas that pose the greatest risk to your customers and take steps to prevent or control that risk.”


There are five broad categories that the Food and Drug Administration collectively terms as “foodborne illness risk factors.” They are:

  • food from unsafe sources 

  • inadequate cooking 

  • improper holding temperatures 

  • contaminated equipment 

  • poor personal hygiene. 


All areas of your restaurant can pose potential hazards, though. Here are some obvious infractions an inspector looks for. Think like an inspector to find risks in your own operation.


Potential Infraction

Do This, Not That



Why it matters:

Mishandled and improperly stored food creates opportunities for cross-contamination that could make your patrons sick.


Food stored on the floor.

Store all food items a minimum of 6 in. above the floor.


Raw food stored above ready-to-eat foods in the walk-in.

Store raw food in labeled, covered containers on shelves below cooked or ready-to-eat food. Keep different types of meats (beef, pork, lamb, poultry, etc.) separated.


Food stored in odd assortment of containers, pails and buckets.

Store food in clean containers with tight fitting lids. Clearly label containers with contents and date stored.


Degreaser on shelf over stove; floor cleaner in walk-in.

Store chemicals in their original containers in a separate area from food, equipment, utensils, linens, and single-service items.


Time/Temperature Control


Why it matters:

The longer food sits in the temperature danger zone, the greater the risk of foodborne illness. Food should be prepared, cooked and cooled properly to reduce the risk.


Leaving frozen items on the counter to thaw.

Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Some items can thaw under cold running water.


Putting just-baked steam table pans of lasagna or deep pots of hot soup in the walk-in to cool.

Place in a blast chiller, separate into smaller/more shallow containers, or use an ice bath to cool items to 70ºF within 2 hours, then put in walk-in to cool to 41ºF or below within 4 hours.


Pulling all the ingredients needed to prep for the day and leaving them at the prep station while doing other tasks.

Take only as many ingredients out of the refrigerator as needed to prep small batches that can be done quickly and put back in the cooler.


Personal Hygiene


Why it matters:

Employees’ hand contact with food poses one of the greatest risks of cross-contamination. Good personal hygiene can prevent it.


Showing up at a prep station with artificial nails and wrist bangles. Cooking on the line without a hat or hair covering.

Remind employees that jewelry, watches, bracelets, rings (other than a simple band), and artificial nails should not be worn at work. Food employees must wear hair coverings when at work. Post personal hygiene rules in the employee locker area.


Rinsing hands in a prep sink after breading chicken thighs, for example, then starting to prep vegetables.


Employees must wash their hands as specified in food code—with soap and hot water for 20 seconds before rinsing—between tasks in a dedicated hand-washing sink.


Drinking a cup of coffee at the fryer station; working with a bandage on a cut or burned finger.

Beverages at work stations must have lids. Hand or finger wounds or burns covered with a bandage must be covered with a single-use disposable glove.




Why it matters:

A dirty restaurant poses safety hazards for employees, attracts pests, and serves as a breeding ground for bacteria, mold and other potential contaminants.


Food spills, dirt and/or standing water on floor of refrigerated or dry storage.

Clean up food spills as soon as they occur. Mop up standing water and place a hazard sign on the floor until dry.


Built-up grease on floor around cooking equipment.

Increase frequency of cleaning schedule. Train employees to move equipment to make sure floors are cleaned properly.


Black spots in your ice machine show evidence of mold and slime.

Thoroughly clean the ice machine according to the manufacturer’s directions or call a service tech. Clean the air filter and change the schedule to have both the filter and the ice machine cleaned more often.


Water backing up in your kitchen sink likely indicates your grease trap is full.

Clean the trap or call a professional service to have it done. Schedule cleanings every 4 to 6 weeks.