One in eight people in Canada get sick because of contaminated food each year. A large source of these food-borne illness outbreaks are food businesses. This is why restaurants must undergo regular health inspections, conducted by provincial governments, municipalities and regional health authorities. These inspections help to ensure that the food a restaurant serves is safe for human consumption, minimizing the risks of a food-borne illness outbreak.
Failing a health inspection can severely damage a restaurant’s reputation, result in hefty fines and even lead to the closure of the business. But that doesn’t mean health inspections have to be scary! Implementing proper training for staff and prioritizing food safety procedures will make health inspections a stress-free experience. Learn how your food business can easily pass a health inspection by following these food safety best practices.
Ensure staff have food safety training and certification
Regions in Canada have different requirements regarding Food Handler Certification. Know the requirements specific to your region. As part of the health inspection, the Health Inspector will check that your business is following the Food Handler Certification requirements in your area.
While regions have specific requirements, we recommend that all managers, supervisors and employees who handle or serve food get their Food Handler Certification. The Canadian Institute of Food Safety’s (CIFS) nationally recognized Food Handler Certification Course provides workers with the knowledge needed to minimize food safety risks in a business. The more employees in your business who are trained and regularly follow proper food safety practices, the easier it will be to pass your inspection!
Always follow food safety best practices
If your business prioritizes food safety practices at all times, you should have nothing to worry about. The Inspector’s goal is to ensure your business is taking all the necessary steps to prevent food-borne illness. Prepare for your health inspection by ensuring proper protocols are in place, staff are properly trained and your business has a comprehensive Food Safety Plan.
The following are common checkpoints an Inspector reviews during a health inspection. Note that these are general health inspection guidelines and not a full list of requirements, which you should get from your local health department.
Food Temperature Control
The Health Inspector will check whether the business is storing, preparing and serving food at the right temperature, and that they are taking the necessary precautions to keep food out of the Temperature Danger Zone (between 4°C and 60°C, 5°C and 60°C in Manitoba). Using a properly calibrated thermometer, make sure that the following temperature controls are maintained:
- all food is cooked to an internal temperature of 74°C / 165°F, or 82°C / 180°F in Manitoba
- hot foods are kept at a temperature above 60°C / 140°F
- cold foods and refrigerators are kept at a temperature below 4°C / 40°F
- freezers are kept at a temperature of, or below, -18°C / 0°F
Food Storage and Preparation
Prevent cross-contamination risks by implementing proper storage and preparation practices:
- correctly label and cover all food
- keep high-risk foods such as raw meat, poultry and fish on the lower shelves of the refrigerator below cooked or ready-to-eat foods
- use different dishes and utensils when preparing cooked or raw foods
- label chemicals and pesticides and keep them away from food and food preparation areas
- store food 15 cm or 6 inches above the floor on shelves, pallets or racks
Good employee hygiene is integral in preventing food-borne illness outbreaks. The Inspector will check whether employees are following proper hygiene standards, including:
- wearing clean work clothing
- using hair restraints such as hairnets or hats
- only wearing acceptable jewellery such as medical alert bracelets and necklaces
- not coming into work if they are sick
Proper hand washing is also a key step in limiting food safety risks. Ensure that employees are following proper hand-washing protocols. Hand washing stations must be clearly identified with proper signage, used only for hand washing and equipped with hot and cold running water, soap and paper towels.
Equipment Cleanliness and Maintenance
If not properly cleaned and maintained, the equipment can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. The Inspector will check that the equipment is maintained properly. Protocols include:
- equipment, utensils, crockery and food contact surfaces do not have cracks, breakage or rough surfaces
- utensils and equipment are washed by hand using the two- or three-sink method or are washed in a commercial dishwasher
- chemical sanitizers are properly used following the manufacturer’s instructions
Building Cleanliness and Maintenance
Keeping all areas of your business clean and sanitary will help prevent pathogens from growing and spreading within the business. Maintain proper sanitation procedures for these areas of the business by ensuring:
- all floors and surfaces are clean and in good condition
- the kitchen, dining areas and washrooms all have proper ventilation
- washrooms are equipped with a garbage container, toilet paper, hot and cold water, soap in a dispenser and paper towels
- regional building codes are followed, including proper lighting
If proper waste disposal procedures are not followed, waste can attract pests and contaminate food with bacteria. The Inspector will verify that the business has strict procedures for waste management, including:
- waste is stored in a sanitary manner and garbage containers are not overflowing
- waste is removed from the kitchen at least once a day, or more frequently if needed
- waste containers are properly sealed and are pest-proof, leak-proof, non-absorbent and properly labelled to indicate the type of waste
- garbage containers are regularly cleaned and sanitized
Pest infestations are highly detrimental to a food business because they can cause biological contamination and spread diseases to humans. They are also difficult, time-consuming and expensive to eradicate. Stop pests from getting into your business by applying these preventive measures:
- cover or seal any openings where pests could enter
- regularly monitor the premises for signs of pest infestation
- follow proper food storage procedures and regularly inspect storage containers for bite marks or holes
Be prepared for your next health inspection. Download CIFS’s Restaurant Health Inspection Checklist and ensure each guideline is addressed for the next time a Health Inspector pays your restaurant a visit. Note that food safety regulations vary across the different regions in Canada. While the checklist is a great starting point in making sure proper food safety measures are in place, contact your local health department to ensure you know and are implementing all federal, provincial and municipal requirements.