We promote and protect the health of the public and the environment.
It seems the health inspector is someone everyone dreads to see walk through the door. Although it may be uncomfortable knowing you're being inspected, the inspector is actually a resource of information for you. The inspector's primary job is to list and explain anything in your establishment that is a concern or something that could do harm to the public health, you and your business.
When you work in a restaurant, learn as much as you can about health safety as it applies to your job. Ask as many questions as you can and know the right thing to do. Someone's life may depend on it.
A food borne illness is a disease carried or transmitted to people by the food they eat.
Factors that could cause a food borne illness include:
The unannounced inspection is the backbone of South Carolina's food protection program. This allows DHEC to see a restaurant or food service facility as it normally operates.
The written inspection form is a 42 item check sheet based on criteria set forth in regulation 61-25. The four and five point weighted items are critical and are highlighted in red. Critical violations are most associated with a food borne illness. Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease and prevent cross-contamination of food and the food contact services by micro-organisms.
Inspectors practice good personal hygiene by washing their hands upon entering an establishment.
The inspector will look to see that the hand wash area has soap, paper towels, hot and cold water, if it is convenient, accessible and in good repair.
Hands should be washed before starting work and as often as necessary to keep them clean. For example, after coughing, sneezing, handling soiled utensils or equipment. Hands must also be washed after smoking, eating, drinking or using the toilet.
Disposal gloves and hand sanitizers are acceptable but cannot take the place of proper hand washing. Too often employees have a false sense of security when they wear gloves.
Disposal gloves must be discarded after possible contaminations such as after handling raw meats and before moving onto other food preparation. After completing tasks such as taking out trash, sweeping and other general cleaning or personal activities, employees should remember to remove and discard the soiled gloves, then wash their hands. If you're serious about food safety, you'll be serious about clean hands.
Products should be labeled for easy identification.
Canned goods should not be dented, rusted, swollen or leaky.
Home canned goods or home prepared products are not an approved source and cannot be served to the public.
Store foods six inches off the floor to protect it from splashes and other contaminations
Food products in the refrigerator should be kept at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
In the walk-in cooler, the inspector checks the internal temperatures of a variety of foods.
Other than produce, most foods stored in the cooler are considered potentially hazardous. Potentially hazardous foods are capable of supporting and growing harmful bacteria. Potentially hazardous foods that have been cooked and placed in a refrigeration unit should be stored in shallow containers no more than four inches deep.
Food items in the process of cooling should be spaced to allow cool air to circulate.
The inspector also checks for the prevention of cross-contamination by looking to see that raw meats are stored on the lower shelves. Cross-contamination happens when raw meat juices is mixed or dripped onto cooked products or other meats.
All food items should remain covered, free from spoilage and stored at least six inches off the floor.
During food preparation, concentrate on preventing food borne illness. Preparation can include thawing, washing, cutting, cooking and other possible steps. During thawing it is common, but wrong, to sit frozen meat products on a counter or in standing water to thaw.
There are four acceptable methods for thawing potentially hazardous foods.
Remember...improper thawing allows bacteria to multiple.
To avoid cross-contamination, different types of meats must be stored, processed and displayed separately.
After you've completed any raw meat preparation or handling, wash your
hands or dispose of your gloves.
All surfaces and utensils, such as knives and cutting boards used during the preparation of raw meat should be washed, rinsed and sanitized before moving onto any other raw, cooked or produce-type food preparation.
One of the major steps in food preparation is the cooking. Different bacteria are controlled at different temperatures.
Because of salmonella, the bacteria found in poultry products, we look for poultry to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
The e-coli bacteria are found in ground beef. That's why ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beef steaks or roasts should be cooked to a surface temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit as well.
Pork should also be cooked at an internal temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit.
Other potentially hazardous foods such as fish, eggs and egg products should be cooked to heat all parts of the food to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
Internal temperatures are measured by using a probe or monitor.
When a potentially hazardous food is to be refrigerated after cooking, chill the food quickly through the temperature danger zone of 45 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Have a large roast? Reduce the portion size. Divide into smaller pieces so it cools quickly. Putting the container in an ice bath and stirring it often is another option.
When pre-cooked foods need to be reheated after being stored cold, it should be quickly reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit within one hour.
Using steam tables, bain-maries, or hot food warmers for reheating is prohibited because they aren't designed to get the quick reheating you need.
Employees who work in the kitchen and do food preparation need to learn the importance of good personal hygiene.
No one who is known to have an illness that can be transmitted to food and then to another person will be allowed to perform food preparation activities.
Workers with diarrhea, coughing, a fever or sneezing must be kept away from food preparation activities.
Personnel with infected wounds, cuts, burns and abrasions should also be restricted from food preparation.
If you have a minor wound on your hand or fingers you may need to wear a finger cot or glove. An exposed bandage is not acceptable.
Keep your fingernails filed and don't wear excessive jewelry.
Wear clean aprons and change them as often as necessary.
Keep your hair pulled back or restrained.
Breaks for eating or smoking must be taken in the designated area away from the food preparation.
If drinks are used in the kitchen area, the containers should be covered.
During the holding time between when food is prepared and when it's actually served, the food temperature must be maintained or held at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below for cold foods or 130 degrees Fahrenheit and above for hot foods.
Temperatures should be taken often with a probe thermometer that reads from zero to 220 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep a thermometer on the cook line as well as the food preparation areas of the kitchen.
Minimize the handling of food during preparation and service.
Use utensils and gloves wherever possible. Especially when making or serving ready to eat foods.
If displaying food on a self-serve or cafeteria-style serve line, make sure your sneeze guards adequately protect the food from being contaminated by the customers.
Any left over portions such as chips, salsa, bread or family-style meals should never be kept.
When equipment, dishes and utensils become soiled there are only two acceptable ways of cleaning and sanitizing.
The first method is by manually washing, rinsing and sanitizing. The second way is to use dish machines. Both methods use the same five principles:
The first principle, pre-rinse, involves manually removing any food and debris.
The second principle, washing, cleans the object and that step is followed by rinsing.
The fourth principle, sanitizing, reduces the possible bacteria to safe levels. This is done by either using hot water or a chemical sanitizing agent.
The last principle is to allow the equipment and utensils to air dry.
When using a dish machine, pre-rinse the equipment and utensils before loading into the machine. The machine then does the washing, rinsing and sanitizing.
Machines are designated by their manufacturer to be either hot water sanitizing or chemical. If the machine is hot water sanitizing then the final rinse water temperature must reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chemical sanitizing machines use chemicals that are automatically dispensed by the machine during the final rinse.
For manual cleaning and sanitizing in a three compartment sink, pre-rinse the debris. The first compartment is for washing using clean, hot detergent and water. The second compartment is for rinsing using clean water. Sanitizing is done in the third compartment by either emerging in a chemical sanitizing agent for thirty seconds or emersion in 170 degrees Fahrenheit hot water for thirty seconds.
Remember...for chemicals to be effective in reducing bacteria, you need the right amount. If too much chemical is added, the solution becomes poisonous. If not enough, the solution can't effectively reduce bacteria.
To make sure the right amount has been added, use test strips to check the level of sanitizer in the water. The three most common chemical sanitizers are:
Make sure the type of test strip matches the sanitizer you're using.
It's critical that we have clean, healthy water that carries no bacteria. This is called potable water. Potable water is brought into restaurants, homes and businesses by a public water supplier or by an approved private well.
Contaminated water leaves buildings through another set of pipes.
To be sure that potable and contaminated water never cross or get mixed, the inspector will look for air gaps or required mechanical devices.
For example, look for air gaps were ice machine pipes or drink machine tubes run into the drain.
Cleanliness in a restaurant is a top priority.
No one knows like a restaurant employee how hard it is to keep a clean facility.
Making a task list and schedule will help you with daily and weekly cleaning.
Store utensils clean and in a clean container or drawer.
Avoid storing cleaning or non-utensil type items together.
Keep single service items covered or turned upside down on a clean shelf or counter.
Always store your wiping clothes in sanitized solution when you're not using them.
Test the solution to ensure it has the right concentration of sanitizer.
Never sit chemicals on or above prep, cooking or equipment and utensil storage areas.
Make sure all kitchen, cooler, bathroom and storage areas are well lit. When light bulbs go out, get them replaced as soon as possible.
Check that lights are shielded or covered to protect food and other contact surfaces from glass shards in case they break.
Floors, walls, ceilings and equipment are inspected to make sure they're clean and in good condition.
Floors with tiled surfaces are checked for cracks and missing grout. Cracks allow water from mopping the floor to weaken the grout resulting in floor tiles separating. These cracks provide a dark, moist environment that can support insect life.
Because rodents, flies, cockroaches and other insects can harbor diseases that can be passed to food and people, their presence must be controlled.
A clean restaurant rarely harbors roaches, rodents or other vermin. Therefore the best way to avoid pests is to clean the kitchen and storage areas every day.
Don't store unnecessary items and maintain your facility so that it doesn't get cluttered.
Doors that lead to the outside must be tight-fitting and any other openings sealed.
Pets such as dogs, cats, birds and turtles are not allowed in food service establishments. The only exceptions are accompanied guide dogs or patrol dogs.
Keep bathrooms clean and in good repair.
Keep the hand sink clean and supplied with soap and paper towels.
Check the ventilation to make sure it stays clean and in good working order.
Lighting is especially important at the hand sink. It should be as bright as in the kitchen.
Trash receptacles should be clean and covered.
Make sure the doors automatically close.
Food safety should be practiced every day, every hour. Not just when you expect a visit from the health department.
Ask questions about the regulations and have a thorough understanding of the violations so that you know what to expect and what to avoid.
Be proud of you work and know that you serve a safe product because food safety protects your job as an employee and the reputation of the food service establishment.
But most importantly, it protects the customer from a food borne illness.