This article was updated on September 27, 2018.
If you work in the food service industry, you will likely encounter your first small business health inspection in just a matter of time. Unfortunately, this can be a fairly stressful experience, especially if you've never gone through an inspection before. To help you get ready, I spoke with Ray Walters, owner of Walts Tavern, about tips to consider to help pass an inspection.
A Tough Start
Walters had a tough introduction to health inspections after he first opened. "Our front door was accidentally unlocked even though we were closed, and our inspector walked in for an unofficial visit," he explains. "She caught me completely off guard, and I was really surprised at what she paid attention to."
For example, the inspector gave Walters a lecture because his bar had raw wood showing. At the time, Walters thought that this was strange because people wouldn't be eating straight off of the bar, but he quickly realized that he had to learn the rules in order to avoid any potential trouble.
Learning About the System
"After that rough first visit, I knew I needed to prepare better," Walters recalls. And so he went straight to the source: the local Department of Health. "They were incredibly helpful and gave me a list of everything to take care of before my next inspection. We were in much better shape the next time our inspector dropped by."
Walters also recommends that business owners ask their health inspectors for advice whenever they point out a problem during an inspection. "When you ask for help, you give the inspector ownership of the problem and they will want you to succeed," he explains. "One time they wrote us up for the bathroom being too poorly lit. I asked for their advice and they said just switch to a 50-watt bulb. I did that and had no trouble on the next inspection."
Trouble Spots Are Not Always What You Expect
Walters noticed that the small business health inspection covers more than you'd expect and this can catch you off guard. For example, his inspectors were really focused on the restaurant lighting and whether his trash room and bathrooms had the right doors. "I'm surprised at some of the details they look at but whenever they ask me to do something I make sure to take care of it," Walters says.
Inspections Depend on the Inspector
Over time, Walters has not noticed a change in the overall standards for the small business health inspection. However, he says the inspection does change depending on the person running it. "We've had four different health inspectors so far and each one ran things a little differently," he notes. "They all have their own points that they really take seriously." As such, while it's important to comply with all requirements, Walters advises that business owners get to know the patterns of their health inspector, as this can help make life easier for future inspections.
A health inspection should not be a cause of dread and fear. By following these tips and understanding the health and safety rules that apply to your organization and industry, you'll be well-positioned for your next inspection.