Understanding Health Inspections

In cities where health inspection ratings are required to be posted, the number awarded will undoubtedly impact your bottom line.

Many new restaurant and bar owners don’t know what to expect at a typical health inspection.  If you have good practices, there is nothing to fear.  Restaurants are inspected based on state and local food regulation compliance, food safety practices, HACCP compliance, sanitation and food defense.

Health inspectors are rarely political appointments.  Inspections are generally performed by qualified inspectors who have attended an accredited program —and by qualified we mean those trained on Food Safety Regulatory Essentials (FSRE) and Public Health Information System (PHIS). To become a food inspector, one needs to earn a diploma in food science, microbiology, environmental health, agriculture or a discipline that relates to food inspection.

A food hygiene inspection is generally comprised of three phases: an opening interview, an inspection, then a closing interview. They generally take between 30 and 180 minutes.

At the opening interview, the inspector and business owner or representative discuss basic information such the nature of the business operations, hours of operation, and management details. There is generally a preliminary tour of the premises where the inspector identifies areas of focus for the physical inspection.

In the case of restaurants, the inspection will start from the receipt of ingredients and raw produce then proceed with the cooking process and service of the final product to customers. Critical areas, like the kitchen area, will be central to the inspection.  An inspection typically includes:

– A physical inspection of the restaurant premises and equipment used

– An observation of sanitation practices

– An observation of food safety handling practices

– Group discussion or individual meeting with employees
– An inspection of employee credentials and the restaurant’s documentation
– verification that management control systems are implemented efficiently


The inspection generally ends with a closing interview where the food inspector discloses the findings of the inspection to the business owner or operations manager and gives recommendations and itemizes hazard and safety issues that needs attention. The inspector will give the business establishment a timeframe for correcting any violations to avoid future citations.  Food inspectors provide the business owner a copy of the report. The report should include the date, time and details of the inspection as well as the contact details of the inspector.  Re-inspection should be expected by the restaurant.

Be collegial and develop a good relationship with your inspector.  You will likely be seeing this inspector again.  You will be partnering with this inspector to ensure food safety for the public.