Routine Health Inspections: What Is Your Report Telling You?

Protecting the Public from Foodborne Illnesses

Restaurant health inspections are conducted to protect the public from foodborne illness. Local laws regulate how frequently these inspections take place, and what specific items and areas the inspectors look for. 

In general, health inspectors check that safeguards are in place to protect food from contamination by food handlers, cross-contamination, and contamination from other sources in the restaurant.

Inspection Reporting
The reports generated by these inspections can be ordered from your local health department. Today, many local health departments are now making the reports of these inspections available online. Many local news agencies and online sites also post restaurant health reports. With inspection results increasingly visible through public reporting, social media, and round the clock reporting, the damage to reputation and revenues lost can occur very quickly with a poor inspection report.

Minor violations are common, however critical; serious level violations or having a larger number of violations are cause for alarm. Some examples of serious level violations include improper or lack of employees regularly washing their hands in a sink equipped with soap, hot water, and paper towels; utensils and surfaces that contact raw meat are used to prepare ready-to-eat foods; and presence of rodents and other pests.

Common Infractions
Here are the most frequently cited restaurant health infractions according to U.S. Model Food Code Establishment Inspection Report:
  1. Cleanliness and condition of food and non-food equipment and utensils: inspectors look to make sure that they are clean, well maintained, equipment performs to manufacturer specifications, and properly calibrated.
  2. Facilities maintained and clean: overall condition of the interior and exterior of the restaurant. 
  3. Food contact surfaces clean and sanitized: observation of and measurement of sanitizer concentrations; temperatures, PH, and hardness ware-washing water; frequency and proper sanitizing procedures.
  4. Nonfood surfaces clean: no accumulation of soils that could buildup and inadvertently contaminate food.
  5. Adequate hand-washing: sinks properly supplied, accessible, clean, well-stocked, and free of clutter.
Learn from your inspection; pay close attention to repeated violations and make corrections as soon as possible. Most violations fall into two categories: procedural, such as failing to keep raw and cooked foods separated and at proper temperatures; and environmental, such as insect or rodent infestations in the restaurant.

Inspection Preparation
Practice the following in order to be better prepared for a health inspection:
  • Performing daily and weekly self-inspections
  • Making unannounced self-inspections and at varying times
  • Using the same form or one similar to the form that your local health inspector would use
  • Starting with the outside, as this is the first area that the inspector and your customers see
  • Making sure food delivery, storage, handling, preparation, and temperatures are top priorities
  • Training and educating all employees on basic food safety: managers and shift supervisors require formal training (in most states food handler certification is required)
  • Quizzing your employees: most health inspectors often ask employees questions about their task or work area
  • Reinforcing positive behaviors
  • Correcting deficiencies as soon as possible 
  • Having temperature, hand-washing, training, food handler certifications, and HACCP records in order and available in case the inspector asks for their review
  • Reviewing inspection findings with staff: point out positives and negatives, and explain proper procedures on any deficiencies | Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety
For more than 60 years, the award-winning Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety ( has helped to improve the safety and health of people throughout the world. Owned and operated by Liberty Mutual Insurance®, the Institute conducts peer-reviewed research to advance scientific knowledge and help reduce injuries and prevent disability. Liberty Mutual has been partnering with the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association for more than 30 years and is passionate about providing members with insurance programs and evidence-based safety solutions tailored to the hospitality industry’s needs. For more information, contact your independent insurance agent or call 800.463.6381.

The principles contained in this material are general in scope and, to the best of our knowledge, current at the time of publication. Liberty Mutual Insurance specifically disclaims all liability for damages or personal injury alleged to arise from reliance on the information contained in this document. © 2017 Liberty Mutual Insurance, 175 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116