When it comes to serving food and drinks, you have plenty to worry about besides customers. Customers can be forgiving, and the loss of one household won’t cripple you. However, if your restaurant, hotel or food trailer fails a city inspection, then you could be shut down for good.
The most important standards to be aware of are the Food Standards Code and various state government food acts, though the most important office you will be dealing with is the local department of health, agriculture and the environment, which may be involved on the state level, county level or even within a smaller community of neighbors and districts.
The environmental health officer, or public health inspector, is responsible for protecting the public health and taking measures to enforce legislation and care for the local environment. This officer will inspect all food facilities, as well as investigate public health nuisances, and if necessary, implement disease control procedures.
While a critic merely shares his opinion and shares his tastes, a public health officer must have an understanding of microbiology, risk assessment, environmental science, food science, disease and public health.
While all this is complicated from a public health officer’s point of view, for the restaurateur it’s a simple lesson summed up in one sentence: a food premises has to be free of all pests, all animal and insect life.
Adding to your dilemma is the fact that—often times through no fault of your own—certain locations just appeal to rats, mice, roaches and the like. Hey, even pests know good real estate when they see it! And as we all know by now, pests don’t just cause the loss of appetite, but bring with them the potential for disease. So, the health inspector is actually doing some businesses a favor by shutting them down. The alternative could very well be worse—being sued by consumers until the business goes bankrupt!
The key is to not simply plan for the health inspector’s visit, but to manage a restaurant or facility that is primed and ready for a surprise health inspection at any time. It’s really not about passing a test in the end; it’s about earning a quality reputation for safety, and looking out for the interests of your customers and your employees.
Consider the startling fact that some 81,000 people suffer from a food-borne illness every year, and 9,000 of those affected will die. This figure from the FDA paints a very strong image of a combined industry that is not safe, since these are not random experiences but preventable illnesses. Food borne illnesses continue to be the leading cause of emergency room visits.
The best way to ensure that your business is a leader—the gold standard of safety and cleanliness—is to treat every day like it’s inspection day. Here are some tips in how to protect your restaurant from pests and the “catalyst” of pests, which is a dirty environment.
- Create a manual which details employee policies for cleaning and maintaining the kitchen and dining area.
- Create systems for proper labeling, hand washing, food preparation and waste disposal.
- Develop a quick plan of action when evidence of pests appears.
- Arrive unannounced, entering from the outside to see what is “really” happening on a day to day basis. (An alternative would be to hire an undercover worker to pose as a guest and scout the place out)
- Get a copy of the local health inspection form to know what health inspectors look for.
- Take the time to teach these essentials to employees and take them through a “walk through” of the business with specific focus on cleanliness and how pests can enter restaurants/facilities.
- If you observe a problem in staff behavior or in communication, don’t just lecture. Address the problem and develop a productive strategy. Recheck for violations and reward employees who correct mistakes.
- Check closets, storage rooms, corners, coolers and underneath the sink. These are the most likely places pests would hide in a relatively clean restaurant.
- Make sure drains are flowing freely as clogging could be a major pest attractant.
- Ask for a copy of your last exterminator report and keep it for the inspector.