Health inspections are important routine audits to help minimize food safety risks. While businesses may not look forward to inspections due to potential infractions, fines and even business closure, the purpose of inspections is actually to help the business, not close it! Health Inspectors are dedicated to protecting the public from food safety hazards, but they also understand that closing down a business impacts the livelihood of many employees.
Not only should you strive to pass your health inspection, but you should also take it as a learning opportunity to find ways to improve your food business. Health Inspectors are there to help you do just that.
Why do Health Inspectors audit a food business?
There are a few reasons a Health Inspector may audit a food business. An Inspector may need to:
- perform a regular inspection to verify your business is complying with regulations
- investigate a customer complaint or reported problem
- follow up on a previous inspection
- carry out a request from the industry, such as obtaining certificates and permits
No matter the reason, Health Inspectors are there to ensure proper food safety practices are followed. This is an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the rules and regulations in your area, and implement any updates to your food safety processes as needed.
What to do during a health inspection
The on-duty Food Manager should be alerted once a Health Inspector arrives at the business. It’s acceptable for the Food Manager to confirm the Inspector’s credentials and determine whether the visit is for a regular inspection or if they are responding to a customer complaint. Regardless of the purpose, an inspection should never be refused. It’s also important not to offer the Inspector any complimentary meals or beverages, as the gesture could be interpreted as a bribe.
The Health Inspector will check all parts of your business to ensure that food safety protocols are in place, are being followed and are effective. They can conduct their investigation through:
- on-site observation
- interviewing staff
- examining records and documentation
- sampling and measuring to confirm the proper critical control points are met
It’s a great idea for the Food Manager to follow the Inspector as they conduct their investigation. Throughout the process, the Food Manager should take time to:
- take notes
- ask for advice or clarification on specific rules and regulations
- ask for tips on how to improve procedures and practices
Have an open, and not hostile, conversation with the Inspector if they note a violation so that you understand how they came to their conclusion. This is an opportunity to learn from the Inspector, and show that the business is dedicated to improving processes as new information arises.
The Inspector will document their observations using a tablet or mobile device, determine whether the requirements are met and complete a report.
What to do after a health inspection
Once the inspection is completed, Food Managers should take some time to review the inspection report with the Health Inspector. If your business has violations, be sure that you understand:
- what the violations are
- the steps needed to correct the violation
- the timeframe you have to implement the corrective action
It’s actually quite common for Inspectors to note minor infractions at a food business. These infractions pose a lesser threat to public health, although they can become bigger issues if left unattended. Take this as an opportunity to improve your health and safety practices before an issue leads to a larger problem that may result in high costs for repair, hefty fines, damaged reputation and even business closure.
How to improve your business for the long-term
In addition to fixing health inspection violations, Food Managers should remember to:
- update food safety processes based on feedback from the Health Inspector
- document the updated processes
- train staff on the new procedures, and ensure they know who to ask or where to look if they need a reminder about the new information
- stay in contact with Health Inspectors as they are a great resource for food safety information
Even though health inspections may be stressful for a food business, it can actually be a great opportunity to make the establishment even better in the eyes of Health Inspectors, regulators, employees and the general public. Working with Health Inspectors to ensure that food safety is always a top priority for your business not only helps to minimize food safety risks, but can also help improve your business reputation and increase profits!
Learn more about how to leverage these important food safety checks with the Canadian Institute of Food Safety’s (CIFS) Guide to Passing a Food Safety Inspection.