dirty kitchen

Food Inspector on their way? Here’s what to expect…

Food many restaurants and cafes, having an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) or “food inspector” visit can be incredibly daunting. This is a first hand account by an EHO as to what they do, what they are looking for, and more importantly how you can pass with flying colours. 

Food businesses are inspected by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs). Most EHOs conduct food business inspections on a risk-based approach, meaning the greater in risk, the more you will see us. And risk isn’t whether you operate a commercial kitchen in a hospital versus a small cafe, it can also relate to poor inspection results, the type of food you serve, the most likely type of customer, the quantity of food you prepare, etc.

As a food business proprietor, you have a responsibility to comply with a wide range of regulatory benchmarks and they aren’t always food related. They can be development approval requirements, fire safety matters and other environmental health matters.

When we walk through your door to conduct an inspection, the first 10 seconds tells us a lot. A lot. The amount of times I have had a manager whisper to a junior employee to go out the back and clean up when we turn up is amazing. Our inspections are mostly unannounced, so don’t ring us trying to book us in or say that it isn’t a good time for an inspection. And for larger food premises, we will either bring other officers to avoid missing defects that are cleaned up while we are at the other part of the building, or we will head to the riskier parts of the premises first.

We may have checklists, but we are basically assessing the food business’s ability to prepare, store, serve and dispose of food products. We want to understand your processes in order to work out whether you can improve.

Once we are on site, we will want to confirm some basic details about the business, who is in charge, follow up on previous defects etc. We may want to see licenses, approvals and documents at this time. We know that this may be pulling you away from other tasks, but it is needed. We collect this info then, as it’s easier than attempting to collect it once we have identified issues.

During the inspection, we are taking photos, videos, temperature checks, filling out checklists and viewing food prep areas, waste areas, toilet and wash hand facilities, storage areas etc.We will also want to check your records on terms checks, cleaning schedules and asking you and possibly staff questions to test skills and knowledge.

Where we see things that concern us, we will record it. Please don’t try and hide the issue or make an attempt to rectify it then, as it won’t help you. I have had food staff snatch mouldy food containers from my hands, chefs padlock food storage rooms claiming that no food is kept in there and getting hosed by a cranky cook that said they were just about the hose out their kitchen… It just makes matters worse.

Once we are on site, we will want to confirm some basic details about the business, who is in charge, follow up on previous defects etc. We may want to see licenses, approvals and documents at this time. We know that this may be pulling you away from other tasks, but it is needed. We collect this info then, as it’s easier than attempting to collect it once we have identified issues.

During the inspection, we are taking photos, videos, temperature checks, filling out checklists and viewing food prep areas, waste areas, toilet and wash hand facilities, storage areas etc.We will also want to check your records on terms checks, cleaning schedules and asking you and possibly staff questions to test skills and knowledge.

Where we see things that concern us, we will record it. Please don’t try and hide the issue or make an attempt to rectify it then, as it won’t help you. I have had food staff snatch mouldy food containers from my hands, chefs padlock food storage rooms claiming that no food is kept in there and getting hosed by a cranky cook that said they were just about the hose out their kitchen… It just makes matters worse.

I’ve worked with a large number of EHOs in my time, and each and every one has their own unique way of conducting their inspection. Some are friendly, some won’t want you to talk at all, some start at that back of the food premises, while others work from the front of the shop. My top five tips for working with us are:

 

1

We have a job to do. We have a duty of care to the safety of the community. If your kitchen is so filthy that we have to shut you down, then that’s what will be done. Whinging that you run a small business and the like, may make our decision uncomfortable, but it will still be the right one.

2

Go with the flow. If you get asked a question, answer it politely and truthfully. You can only improve.

3

Keep good records. Cleaning schedules, temp checks, delivery receipts, pest records, etc.

4

We aren’t in your kitchen 24/7, so this is your opportunity to prove to us that you will operate your business compliantly all the time. Being rude, aggressive, untruthful or vague will only give us the impression that you don’t take food safety seriously and will trigger a heightened inspection.

 

5

Education versus regulation. We would love to spend all of our time educating you, but the fact is that we are often spending considerable time undertaking regulatory processes. Be proactive and show an interest in food safety as it will always be well received by us.

The best food businesses that I inspect are proactive and see the inspections as an opportunity to do better. Good food businesses are only inspected for a minimum amount of times each year and the inspection flows really well. The opposite occurs with bad food businesses. We see them on a more frequent basis, inspections are considerably longer and they are often are followed with fines, prosecutions and other regulatory processes.

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