Monday, September 19, 2011

Health Inspections: Ugh or Yippee? … For Real

"Self-inspections are key to a successfully run establishment."  

Do I dare say, “Oh no! The health inspector is here!” I remember years ago, while working in restaurants, the health inspector used to come in and visit us. I would always get quite nervous. It was that same feeling as if I were 16 years old again; just having drunk a couple of beers and seeing a policeman across the street. You know that guilty, paranoid feeling as if you are about to get caught doing something wrong.  As the years have gone by, I have met more and more health inspectors and understand the overall picture better. I understand and realize now that Health Inspectors are our friends. 

I just taught a class on Monday where I was so impressed by the pride of the restaurant owner and the way he discussed his wonderful relationship with his health inspector. And he was absolutely right! In actuality, I do feel quite sorry for health inspectors as overall, most people are never happy to see them. Additionally, there is less funding, thus less of them with more duties and more of you. At the end of the day, the relationship you have with your health inspector should never be adversarial. I believe passionately, that if an owner of an establishment makes sure his place is managed pro-actively, then the health inspection process will serve as confirmation of a well-run establishment. If errors are found, this will be considered as a learning process on how to run your establishment better. This means a great manager will run self-inspections to confirm things are well managed. I feel no pity for an establishment who is shut down due to lack of refrigeration. Why would they wait till the health inspector informs them that their refrigeration is broken? For this reason, again, self-inspections are key to a successfully run establishment. 

As food operators, we have to remember that we are customers as well and we need to appreciate the role of the health department inspectors to confirm the food we eat out is safe. It makes sense that the inspection process happens when we are busy … as (nearly) everyone looks gorgeous when not busy. When the health inspector comes in they will identify themselves and offer you their badge. VERY IMPORTANT … if they don’t offer you their identification badge, ask for it politely but firmly. It is important to ask them for identification if they don’t offer it, as you need to confirm that is really an inspector and not a scam artist trying to rob the cash registers or to scope out the place for later. It also makes sense that you ask them the purpose of the inspection; standard inspection or due to a complaint? I have been at a client’s location, when the health inspector showed up due to a complaint from a competitor.

Alway cooperate fully when they show up. This does not mean that you ask them to reschedule because you are short-staffed because of some no-shows. If I were your health inspector ( I am not), I would doubly make sure to stay as this is most often when mistakes could happen to lead to foodborne illnesses.   

You should always accompany your health inspector. If they find something wrong, you usually have the chance to fix it right away and additionally, you should take notes if they inform you of something new … so you can train your staff to follow proper procedures. Taking notes – means you won’t forget something because you were too nervous to remember it properly.

You should also keep the relationship professional … which means no offers of food, drink (water is fine), gifts or monies for obvious reasons.

Look, let’s get real … at the end of the day there are good and bad people in all areas of the workforce (sometimes they make it onto our staffs for short periods of time). There are many good health inspectors, whose mission is to sincerely assist you to run and manage your establishment better. There are others in real life who are not so helpful and might be full of the power they have in their role as inspector. Additionally, no one can know everything. If during the inspection process, an inspector tells you to do something like put hot food in your refrigeration unit to cool it faster and you realize this is wrong, ask them about this. Understandably, this can put you in a confrontational role and you might not feel comfortable questioning your inspector. My suggestion in this scenario would be to call your local health department and ask them what are the standard procedures for that activity and then just LISTEN. Notify them if you were told differently. You have to do this at the minimum, so that this inspector can be corrected  so they can do their job properly. This is the biggest complaint from operators about the inspection process … consistency among inspectors.

How long do you have to fix something if something is found to be in error? Typically, right away, but in real life, it should be corrected in the time period allowed. Again, remember, your health inspectors should be considered your friends. Consider them as a business consultant to confirm and advise you on how to run your business better!

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area., or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS


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