top of page

Secrets For a Spotless Restaurant Inspection

It can happen at any time. You may be right in the middle of the lunchtime rush, with a long list of delivery orders piling up, and your best cook and top server are both out sick; when out of nowhere, the health inspector walks in the door, clipboard in hand. It’s happened to all of us at one time or another; which is why the best way to prepare for a successful health inspection is to be prepared - at all times! 

As a restaurant owner, annual health inspections are a necessary and unavoidable fact of restaurant life. The good thing about them is they help you stay on your toes, and provide an unbiased assessment of the safety and cleanliness of your restaurant. The bad thing about them, is that if violations are found by a health inspector, it  could lead to fines and even being forced to close your doors until conditions and food safety are improved. Acing your annual inspection is essential to long-lasting success, and can save you from huge fines and even worse, a big blemish on your businesses’ reputation. 

Be Ready, So You’re Set to Go!

There’s no worse feeling for a restaurant owner or manager than being ill-prepared for the sudden entrance of the dreaded clipboard-bearing inspector, but on the other hand, there’s no better feeling than being ready, so when it happens, you’re set to go. Every state has its unique set of regulations, so it’s important to check the FDA food safety codes for your state.  

A Checklist for a Health Inspection

It’s critical that you know what the health inspector will be looking for, and it’s a good idea to self-inspect on a regular basis. Here's a restaurant health and safety inspection checklist:

Food Preservation

  • Food stored at least 6 inches above ground level.

  • Food is kept in a sterile, dry environment.

  • The FIFO (First In, First Out) system is used to store food.

  • Food and chemicals are kept apart.

Preparation of Food

  • Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or under running water.

  • When handling food, employees use gloves, clean hands, and utensils.

  • Cross-contamination is avoided while food is prepared.

  • Before being placed in the hot holding room, food is heated to the proper temperature to kill microorganisms.

Maintenance of Freezers and Refrigerators

  • The thermometer is visible and accurately indicates the temperature.

  • The refrigerators and freezers are all spotless.

  • All the food is appropriately labeled and dated.

  • In walk-in refrigerators, food is kept at least 6 inches above the ground.


  • Washing, rinsing, and sanitizing are divided into three sections at the washing station.

  • The equipment is spotless to the eye and touch.

  • When stored, utensils are covered to protect them from dust and pollutants.

  • Water is heated to the proper sanitizing temperature.

Disposal of Refuse and Waste

  • Trash and garbage are disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.

  • Lids or covers are used on outside trash cans.

  • When the bins for garbage and recycling are full, they are emptied.

  • The area around the dumpster is free of rodents and other pests.

  • Trash bins are cleaned regularly to keep rats and bugs away.

Employee Health and Safety

  • Employees use correct hand-washing practices to wash their hands frequently

  • Eating and smoking are restricted to locations apart from the food preparation areas

  • Long-haired employees wear hairnets, and male employees hide their facial hair

Business Owner Requirements at Inspection Time

The business owner is required to:

  • Check the inspector's credentials: If the inspector does not present them to you voluntarily, you should ask. If you're still unsure, check with your local health department to prevent being tricked by an impostor looking for free company information.

  • Follow the inspector: To get a firsthand look at any restaurant problems, follow the inspector. It's worth noting that you can remedy some breaches immediately. These infractions will be marked as corrected on the spot, which is more reassuring to potential customers than an out-of-compliance label.

  • Sign the inspection report: Once you have reviewed all the comments contained in the restaurant inspection list, sign the inspection report. This does not imply that you agree with the conclusions; instead, it proves that you received a copy.

  • Seek clarity: If you don't understand something the inspector claims is a violation, ask for an explanation. You can't fix an issue unless you know what it is.

No matter what… even if you are caught at your worst moment, you should avoid denying an inspection because it will just cause further delays. The inspector will return soon, armed with an inspection warrant and, more than likely, a sour disposition. It is also not recommended to offer the inspector any food or drink. Be kind and friendly, but anything more could be misconstrued as a bribe to influence the inspection report.

What if you receive a food safety violation? 

In the event that you receive a violation, don’t panic. Your immediate priority should be to find and implement a solution, fast. If it’s a minor violation, such as improper labeling, unkempt furniture, you will likely get the chance to address the issue within a prescribed timeframe. You may not be financially penalized, you will face a follow-up inspection. During this time be sure to brief your staff, emphasize the importance of food safety and test your employee’s knowledge.

If the violation is more serious, such as improper cooking or cross-contamination, you may face a fine and be required to close the business until you fix the issue.  

Major Violations to AVOID

  • Unsafe food sources

  • Improper food storage 

  • Cross-contamination

  • Sick restaurant staff (especially during Covid)

  • Improperly or undercooked food 

The best way to avoid any violations is to be on top of things 365 days a year, not just the day of the inspection. To stay ahead of the game, here are ten tips to help your team prepare:

  1. Get an Outside Perspective. It’s easy to get bogged down with food orders, scheduling, and day-to-day activity.  But it’s important to keep an eye on the prize – your customers. Take a walk through your restaurant  at different times, on various days. Is it clean? Are servers following Covid protol?  Is food stored correctly? Basically, look around and ask yourself, “Would I Eat Here?”

  2. Review Past Reports. Reports from previous years are excellent resources for reviewing the areas where your restaurant may need improvement. Review results of reports with your employees, highlighting the areas that need work, and review once a month to make sure these issues are being addressed.  

  3. Use a Daily Restaurant Cleaning Checklist, and put yourself in the health inspector's place. Check with your local health department on what regulations and forms are being used, and download and print a copy to use as your checklist.

  4. Conduct “pop-up” inspections of your own. Nothing keeps staff on their toes more than an inspection from their boss!  Instill everyday food preparation, storage, cooking and cleaning habits and make sure that your staff is routinely following them on a daily. 

  5. Encourage good habits. After each annual health inspection, there’s always the chance your staff might fall back into old habits and overlook minor violations. To keep that from happening, remain proactive when it comes to cleanliness, organization and health standards. Stay on top of food safety and kitchen practices. What you do on a daily basis will determine the way your next inspection will go. 

  6. Keep staff current on food safety practices. During these especially challenging times, health inspectors are paying extra attention to food handling. Make sure to check in with staff regularly to be sure  they’re up-to-speed on food safety techniques, including food-handling practices related to food allergies, cross contamination, time and temperature guidelines, personal hygiene, (including hand washing), Temperature guidelines include checking the temperature of products when they arrive, when they are stored and when they are served.

  7. Reinforce the importance of hand washing. Post signs at all kitchen sinks and in employee restrooms.

  8. Schedule regular staff meetings to keep everyone on the same page. In addition to holding regular meetings and keeping your restaurant up to code at all times, if you think it might be that time of year for a  health inspection, call for a mandatory staff meeting and let your employees know that an inspection may be coming soon. Review the past reports and any issues that you feel could use some extra attention before the inspector arrives.  

*If your staff includes employees for whom English is a second language, consider hiring a professional translator. A bilingual staff member might use terms or phrases that might not make sense or could be misinterpreted in other dialects.

  1. Put your team to the test. Ask your employees safety questions regarding the tasks they are doing to ensure their inspection readiness for any questions the health inspector could have. (example: to avoid cross-contamination, what color food storage containers should be used to store chicken, seafood, and vegetables?)

  2. Review your local health codes for any special, local requirements. Make sure your managers are kept up-to-date on your state’s FDA food safety codes.Have your management staff review these safety codes with new hires.  

By Eileen Strauss


Thanks for subscribing!

Get a Taste of Our Secret Sauce
Stay up to date with the latest restaurant delivery news

Bringing in






Driving Repeat Business

Making Delivery Work

*Sauce recovers over 98% of restaurant delivery refund claims.

Commission Free Direct Delivery

Access To Unlimited Supply Of Delivery Drivers

Live Mobile Order Tracking

Live Delivery Support

Refund Reconciliation Management

Virtual Telephone Answering

Feedback Collection & Management


bottom of page