Health Inspections

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It’s a day pizzeria operators live for! Anxious customers await seats or gather at the register. Telephones hum with carryout orders. Sales flow like the Colorado River racing through the Grand Canyon.
By the way, get a load of that fellow with briefcase in hand, odd grin plastered on his face. Notice those strange-looking gadgets bristling from his shirt pocket? We all know our health department number will pop up someday, but inspectors seem to walk in at the worst times. Even if business is slow, operators not versed in health department priorities, or whose operations lack established safe food-handling procedures, might be in for an agonizing experience.
“Exactly why are inspection scores important?” many frustrated operators ask. “What do inspectors target?” “How can I prepare?”
For a few answers, let’s look at the impact of negative scores, issues that most concern health inspectors and tips on how pizzeria operators can prepare for unannounced evaluations.

Inspection Scores
Poor inspection scores scream trouble. Compliance after the fact is a regulatory pain-in-the-neck. Inspectors establish resolution deadlines with which pizzeria operators must comply, usually without regard to budgetary or scheduling constraints. While some problems are easily resolved, others require costly, time consuming solutions. Some health agencies levy fines or suspend operating licenses.
That’s not all. The public is likely to hear about poor scores. Employees and vendors are notorious for passing along news regarding health evaluations. And inspections become public record. Whoever hunts for, or stumbles across, such information will know how a given pizzeria scored. Many restaurant operations experience irreversible sales dips due to negative health reputations, unfounded or otherwise.
Health inspectors aren’t the only people monitoring sanitation practices. National Restaurant Association figures show one-third of adult Americans work, or have worked, in restaurants. Which means operators serve a food-educated population that increasingly demands health-friendly processes, policies and conditions.

What Do Inspectors Target?
Inspectors focus on many issues, but most severe violations fall into one of four categories:
? Temperature. Many foods must be cooked to specified internal temperatures before serving to prevent bacteria, such as E-coli, from harming consumers. Holding and storage temperatures also impact bacterial growth and must fall within established guidelines.
? Water Supply. Health inspectors hate clogged sewer pipes, improperly installed water supply lines and other conditions that contaminate water used for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Greg Boole, Registered Sanitarian and Minnesota Health Department official, says, “Unsafe water supply is a frequent reason inspectors temporarily close facilities until problems are resolved.”
? Cross Contamination. Health departments cite cross contamination as a prime culprit in food borne illness. Accordingly, inspectors target suspect procedures. For example, cutting raw chicken and then, without proper sanitation, preparing other foods on the same surface creates potential salmonella bacteria contamination. Inspectors check cold storage facilities for unsafe organisms and improper stock patterns, like raw meats stored so juices loaded with dangerous bacteria might drip onto foods such as fruits, vegetables or bread. Inspectors are alert for dirty personal clothing; soiled aprons or caps contacting food preparation surfaces often result in cross contamination.
? Personal Hygiene. Sound health and hygiene practices among foodservice personnel are essential. Inspectors watch for ill individuals who may contaminate food by coughing or sneezing, workers with open cuts and people using poor hand washing procedures. Inspectors check for approved hand washing facilities in preparation areas and frown on hand sinks used for other purposes. Another major concern is unauthorized persons in preparation or service areas, especially young children, who seldom concern themselves with good sanitation practices.

Prepare Now
Learn. Many regulatory jurisdictions require safe food handling courses for at least one person in each restaurant. It’s a commendable idea and one that can be implemented voluntarily as well. Training provides information about health codes and compliance methods. Stretch your dollars. Use the class attendee’s knowledge and course materials to train other staff.

Teach. Teach safe food handling principles to all workers. Hold safety meetings to discuss health department requirements and related issues.

Develop. Develop sound procedures based on approved guidelines from recognized food safety institutions. Specify exact steps for safe prep work in your restaurant. Assign responsibility and frequency for checking and documenting food temperatures. Don’t forget, food products should arrive at the pizzeria within safe storage temps. Post “Wash Hands” signs. Watch for water supply problems and take immediate corrective action to protect customers.

Maintain. Labor schedules can double as assignment guides for periodic tasks related to food safety. Develop a task list using information from recognized food safety institutions. Tasks might include items like sanitizing walk-in coolers, cleaning freestanding refrigerators and calibrating food thermometers. Then, when writing labor schedules, assign tasks based on projected sales and staff availability to assure completion.

Inspect. Review local health codes, duplicate your controlling agency’s evaluation form and periodically play inspector. Approach the restaurant from the exterior to get an outsider’s point-of-view and perform a thorough walk-through of the pizzeria. Grade yourself honestly and correct violations.

Sound food handling habits require effort, but offer valuable benefits. Pizzeria staff and customers will stay safe, happy and ready to return. It’s a refreshing change and a lot less stressful when well-prepared operators approach health inspections as opportunities to validate developed procedures.

SIDEBAR

FDA Internal Temperature Guide
Ground Product
Beef, veal, lamb and pork 160 F
Chicken and turkey 165 F

Beef, Veal, Lamb Roasts and Steaks
Medium-rare 145 F
Medium 160 F
Well-Done 170 F

Poultry (Turkey and Chicken)
Breast 170 F
Legs and Thighs 180 F

Fish Flakes with a fork

FDA Recommended Holding & Storage Temperatures

• Hot food held for serving 140? F or higher
• Cold food stored or held for serving 41? F or lower
• Frozen foods storage 0? to -10? F
• Dry storage 50? – 70? F

Additional Information

The National Restaurant Association Education Foundation (www.nraef.org) provides excellent educational information and a highly regarded training program called Serv-Safe.