Ever wonder what food inspectors look for when they investigate your favorite restaurant?
And what they find in those inspections?
Detective Foodsafe® has spent a lot of time doing her own investigations after people reported foodborne illness they felt struck them after eating at specific food establishments.
In her work, she has seen many violations that can and do lead to food poisoning.
But not every restaurant breaks food safety rules, at least not intentionally. Most restaurants work hard to keep their kitchens clean and their customers from getting sick.
The truth is, on any given day an inspector could find things amiss in foodservice kitchens that prepare your meals eaten away from home. Most people become sick due to a foodservice mistake instead of a purposeful act.
You might be surprised by what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors found from 2017-2018.
Food Safety Violations
Inspectors at the local, state, and federal levels inspect facilities that grow, process, manufacture, pack, shop and prepare the food that we eat.
These inspectors are specially trained to spot breakdowns in hazard prevention plans that can make us sick when food becomes contaminated.
Here is just a sample of the most often cited violations found in 2017-2018 by the FDA and the errors in food handling that were found.
21.5% of facilities inspected failed to properly monitor sanitary conditions in the kitchen.
Failure to keep surfaces and equipment in the kitchen clean and sanitized, as well as any other source of contact with food that can contaminate it, such as dirty water or sewage, will result in a violation.
- Cross contamination when preparing foods
- Food preparation surfaces not clean and sanitized
- Unsafe water coming into contact with foods or surfaces
- Not having pressurized, potable hot (120 degrees) and cold water at all times
- Failure to store foods to prevent cross contamination between raw and ready-to-eat foods; not storing foods with cover, label and date
- Failure to cease operations if sewage backs up into facility; if grease trap overflows or clogs; not having a functional toilet and don’t have a fully operational sewage disposal system
20.9% of the facilities inspected failed to control pests and keep them out of areas where they could contaminate food.
- All facilities should be kept free of pests/vermin
Operations and Maintenance
19% of facilities were found to either fail to keep area clean or repair equipment resulting in time/temperature abuse.
- Not sanitizing surfaces using proper cleaning products
- Not storing glass and utensils to prevent contamination
- Not using NSF approved equipment
- Equipment in disrepair
Contamination of Food
19% of the facilities did not prevent cross contamination of allergens or allowed holding of foods to create hazards which allowed pathogens to flourish.
Keeping food out of the temperature danger zone is key for all foodservice facilities.
- Failure to prevent cross contamination, including potential allergens
- Not cleaning all utensils and surfaces between usage with potential allergens
- Food not cooked to proper internal temperature
- Leftover food not reheated to internal temperature of 165 degrees
- When holding either hot or cold foods, they are not maintained at proper internal temperature
- All food not cooled per guidelines: rapidly from 135 to 70 deg in 2 hours then 70 to 41 degrees in 4 hours using shallow containers, smaller portions, with rapid cooling equipment or in an ice bath
- No written procedures for hot and cold food time/temperature are followed by staff
- Not limiting direct hand contact of food by using utensils, dispensers, or deli tissues
- Failure to discard all food not used within 7 days of preparation
18% of the facilities did not take precautions for staff in direct contact with food and surfaces who did not practice safe hygiene be removed from tasks.
- Uncovered cuts, sores, or rashes
- Employees not being excluded from work with a communicable disease
- Not requiring proper handwashing prior to food preparation, after using restroom, moving from raw to ready-to-eat food preparation and whenever hands become soiled
- Not enforcing requirements that staff wear clean clothing, washed daily, and gloves or aprons as required
Food inspections of restaurants usually occur twice a year, although many of us would like it to be more often.
Detective Foodsafe knows, and now you do as well, that unsafe practices by your local restaurants place customers at risk for foodborne illness.
Protect Yourself When Eating Out
You can protect yourself by looking for the inspection information of any restaurant you choose.
In most areas, a letter grade will tell you how well the restaurant practices food safety. Some states are changing to a red-yellow-green light system for universal understanding of the conditions in each restaurant.
You can’t always see contaminants or pathogens in your food, but certainly a restaurant that is dirty, has bugs crawling around, and unkempt employees probably isn’t paying enough attention to keeping your food safe.
You can take steps to prevent food poisoning when dining out by following Detective Foodsafe’s advice to just leave if you have any suspicions that your food may not be handled safely.
Better safe than sorry!