How to Start a Restaurant 06 : Initial Health Inspection

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How to Start a Restaurant 06 : Initial Health Inspection

By now you have a pretty good start on opening your restaurant. Last week in “How to Start a Restaurant” we covered how to look into “Research the Local Laws.” This unit we are really cutting through a lot of the red tape.

In this lesson we are going over some things you are going to want to prepare for so you are granted your food license. In order to get your food license you are going to have to pass a health inspection. Every new restaurant has to pass a food inspection to get their food license.  

Before you sign any lease you should talk to the local health department first to make sure this is a viable building to home your new restaurant. If you do sign the lease first I would make sure there is a clause in there that says something about it being contingent on the health department.

The health codes change from state to state so the first thing you should do is contact your local health department. They will have some tools that will help guide you through the process.

These rules and regulations and all the red tape you have had to jump through may seem ridiculous but they are there for a reason. It isn’t just to protect the consumer but also to protect the restaurant owner from a possible law suite. They are there to help with food borne illnesses as well. As a restaurant owner you do not want people getting sick from your food. You will get shut down and have a possible law suite. All your hard work and money you put into get your restaurant up and running would be for nothing.

Where Do Health Departments get Their Guidelines?

Back in January of 2011 President Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act. According to the FDA’s website this act was “the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years.” This act switched it so the health department wouldn’t be dealing with food contamination problems but shifts the focus to preventing it. 

Each state is responsible for creating their own food codes. However the United States Food and Drug Administration every 4 years releases an updated Food Code. This helps provide all jurisdictions at all government levels a guideline that will help them in creating their own food codes. This document is over 200 pages and covers multiple areas of the food code. They’re  trying to help keep the public safe from food borne illnesses. The code was released in 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013, and 2017. It is a good idea to get yourself familiar with it.

Click on the link below for more information on food codes.

Click here to find your states food service codes and regulations by state.

The code covers things like

  • The reduction of food borne illnesses
  • How often an establishment should be inspected
  • Uniforms
  • Cooking temperatures
  • How to thaw meat

A Few things the Health Department will look for.

The first thing they do when they walk into any of my restaurants is they head straight to the hand washing sink where they was their hands. Any idea why they do this? They are checking for these next 2 things.

Hand sinks – They will make sure you have the minimum number of hand sinks. They will check to make sure they have hot and cold water running to them and that there is soap to wash your hands. They will check the bathroom sink in the same manor.

Paper Towel – Every hand washing sink will need to have paper towels next to it to dry your hands. Right off the bat this is what they are checking for soap, hot and cold water, and for paper towels. If you don’t have these things right there you may get written up. I have had it happen where the manager that was on duty had just used all the paper towels and hadn’t had a chance yet to replace them yet and they wrote us up for it.

Menu Items – They will ask for a menu to see what you are serving so they have an idea of some of the violations to look for.

Recipes – They will ask you things like what are your recipes? Again this gives them a few ideas of some of the things to look for. They will also be looking for things like cross contamination as well.

Dress Code – Want to see want kind of dress code you have for your team members. They like to see no holes in jeans, restaurant safe shoes, gloves, hair nets, and beard guards.

Disciplinary action – They will want to know how you are going to handle things when food safety rules are not followed

Dish washing procedure – They are going to want to see your procedures for everything you do including dishes. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a 3 compartment sink and washing them by hand or using a dishwashing machine they will want to see you demonstrate your procedure on dishwashing.

Your Own Health Inspection

Before your initial health inspection it is a good idea to give yourself your own health inspection. Either make up your own spread sheet or go over to the contact page and contact me and simply ask for the health inspection preparation guide. I will send it right over to you. If you make it on your own it would be a good idea to start with these in mind

Equipment – Check to make sure your equipment is all clean and cooking and cooling at the right temperatures.

Labels – Make sure everything is labeled. Even if everyone in your restaurant knows what is in the bottle the health department will still want the bottle labeled. Date marking I can not stress enough how important it is to have everything date marked they get really upset if this isn’t happening.

Temperatures – It’s a great idea to have a schedule to follow where you will be checking your temperatures on a regular bases throughout the day. It makes them really happy if they see you have a chart with times and the temperatures on it. This lets them know you are on top of things and will ease their mind a little.

Bathroom – Have a bathroom cleaning schedule that you follow and make sure it is always filled out with who cleaned it and when.

Hand sinks – A chart where you check all hand sinks for soap and paper towels.

You do all these things and your initial health inspection will go smooth and you will be serving food before you know it. Here is a website you can find alot of information on about your intial health inspection. Each state is different so this may not be as helpful to a person opening a restaurant in Michigan. Below is a check list I got from a local health instpector that they usually give out.

The following checklist is provided as a tool to prepare the owner/operator of a new or remodeled food service establishment for the pre-opening inspection by the health department.


Has all equipment in the facility been installed in accordance with the plans approved by the health department?   Yes  No
Has the person in charge taken an approved food safety certification class?  Yes  No
The health department approved a water heater with an energy input of ______ BTU/KW and a recovery capacity of _____ gph@100° F rise. Is that what is installed?  Yes  No
If a ventilation system was installed for cooking equipment, was verification of the mechanical final inspection approval submitted to the health department?  Yes  No  N/A
Has all construction equipment been removed, and is the facility clean? Have all food and non-food contact surfaces been cleaned and sanitized?
 Yes  No 
Have soap, towel dispensers and hand washing reminders been provided at all hand washing facilities, and are they supplied with soap and single-use toweling?  Yes  No 
Has a metal stemmed food product thermometer, scaled from 0°-220° F and accurate to +/-2° F, been obtained and calibrated?  Yes  No 
If the health department approved the installation of a certain make/model dish machine, is that the unit that has been installed?  Yes  No  N/A
Is all automatic ware washing equipment fully operational and sanitizing properly? 
 Yes  No  N/A
Have sanitizing reagents for all manual ware washing sinks and wiping cloth storage containers been obtained?  Yes  No 
Have chemical test kits been obtained for all sanitizing reagents being used?  Yes  No 
Are all refrigeration and freezer units operating properly and equipped with numerically scaled thermometers, accurate to +/-3° F, and located in the warmest part of the unit?  Yes  No
Have temperatures in refrigeration units been measured? Are they maintaining 41° F or less? 
 Yes  No
Are all hot food holding cabinets operational and equipped with numerically scaled thermometers , accurate to +/-3°F, and located in the coldest part of the unit? Are they capable of maintaining food product at or above 135° F?  Yes  No
Are all outer doors, windows, and other openings to the outside self-closing and tight-fitting, or are they equipped with screens, air curtains, or air doors to prevent the entrance of insects and rodents? 
 Yes  No
Are drain lines from ice bins, ice machines, steam tables, dipper wells, culinary sinks, refrigerators without evaporators, or other equipment with clear water waste discharge air gapped (at least twice the size of the pipe and no less than one inch) to a properly-sized floor sink or drain? 
 Yes  No
Are drain lines from bar sinks, dish machines, and the sanitizing compartment of 3-compartment sinks indirectly wasted to a properly sized floor sink or drain?  Yes  No
Have appropriate and approved backflow prevention devices been installed on water supply lines where required (equipment such as garbage grinders, carbonated beverage units, Chinese ranges, steamers, automatic dish machines, combi ovens, etc.)?  Yes  No
Have the Building Department and Fire Marshall been contacted, and have they granted final approval?  Yes  No
Has a food service license application been submitted and license fee paid?   Yes  No
Have “No Smoking” signs been provided at all entrances where food is served and/or consumed?   Yes  No

If “No” was the answer to any of the above questions, the establishment is not fully prepared for the pre-opening inspection.

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