Restaurant Health Code Violations And How to Avoid Them

Oh, the dreaded health code violations. One slip-up and there could be serious ramifications. Having a health code violation not only will drive away guests, but could also make you susceptible to hefty fines and sometimes even legal action. 

With so much on your plate, how do you keep track of all the different health code violations and ensure you’re staying compliant? First, it’s helpful to have a general health code violations list so you can keep the violations top of mind. Then, it’s nice to have an automated restaurant management system to help you stay on top of it all. We can help with both, so keep reading.

What are health violations?

A health violation (or health code violation) happens when a restaurant breaks rules regarding hygiene, food safety, or sanitation. Restaurant health inspectors are the ones who enforce these rules. They carry out regular inspections to ensure restaurants are practicing safe food handling, hygiene, and sanitation practices. Health codes are put in place to protect customers from food poisoning and other illnesses.

Why are health violations bad for a restaurant?

It may seem obvious, but to be clear, delivering safe, delicious food should be the foundation of a restaurant. Beyond that, health violations are bad for a restaurant for a number of reasons. The first one is that they frequently come with fines and disciplinary action. The second is that they put inspectors on higher alert when they come by again. One failed inspection test could lead to closer scrutiny down the line. Third, you need to consider how a health violation could affect a customer. Even if the violation doesn’t directly lead to foodborne illness, if a customer finds out for example that you keep cleaning supplies too close to the food, it could be quite problematic. Especially in the days of social media, where TikTok videos expose health code violations at an alarming rate.

Can a restaurant get fined for a health code violation?

Yes. Restaurants often get fined for failing to adhere to health codes. If these problems persist, the restaurant could even be forced to shut down. Beyond that, if customers find out your restaurant has violated a health code, it’s possible news could spread quickly and you could lose customers rapidly. 

What are the most common health code violations?

There are a number of different health code violations out there, but here are some of the most common. Take a look at this health code violations list:

  1. Cross-contamination
  2. Food temperature
  3. Poor personal hygiene
  4. Improper storage of food
  5. Chemical use and storage
  6. Improper storage of utensils and dishes
  7. Inadequate kitchen sanitation

1. Cross-contamination

The cook cuts the raw chicken, hastily wipes the knife with a rag, and then plops down some fruit and cuts it with the same knife because it’s a busy weekend night. That’s a big no-no.

This example might sound a bit dramatic, and hopefully it’s not the case in your restaurant. Unfortunately, cross-contamination happens far too often, particularly in fast-paced, high stress kitchen environments without proper sanitation principles and trained staff. Getting sloppy when it comes to using knives and failing to thoroughly sanitize surfaces before placing new food down can have dire consequences.

Just how dire? The CDC estimates that 3,000 people die from food borne illness each year in the United States. 1280,000 are hospitalized due to food poisoning, and a whopping 48 million get sick. You don’t want your restaurant to be the culprit.

2. Food temperature

Time and temperature control (TTC) is critical in a restaurant. In short, it means you should keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Whether a food is raw, cooked, cold, or hot, it should be kept at the right temperature at all times. Raw meat must be cooked to a certain minimum temperature in order to be deemed safe for consumption. And refrigerated foods shouldn’t be kept out of the fridge for long periods of time. 

That buffet line is especially important to monitor, as hot food that sits out and falls under a certain temperature could be just as dangerous as cocktail shrimp that’s unrefrigerated. Keeping food at a safe temperature helps keep bacteria and viruses from growing and spreading.

3. Poor personal hygiene

Your workers must be very careful to maintain the strictest standard of personal hygiene, particularly when it comes to hand washing and hair grooming. Nobody wants to find a hair in their meal. And as a customer, sensing your server’s come out of the bathroom without washing their hands is enough to make your stomach churn. Poor personal hygiene is not only a major turnoff for guests. It’s also a health concern. Germs and bacteria can become a major issue if hands aren’t washed regularly and thoroughly. Long hair should be kept under control with a hat or hair net. Hygiene should always be top of mind for anyone in a restaurant.

4. Improper storage of food

Don’t let food sit out. Make sure you store it correctly, including being in the right order, such as not storing raw meat over fruits and vegetables. You must err on the side of caution and be very careful to store food in a way that’s safe for customers and in a way that there won’t be an easy breeding ground for bacteria. Be sure containers are sealed and that food is properly covered so no cross contamination occurs in the refrigerator.

5. Chemical use and storage

No customer wants to see the bleach bucket right next to the bucket of chips. Or the sanitizing rag right on the edge of the tub of lettuce. Keep chemicals away from food. You should absolutely use sanitation chemicals, but you must use them correctly. For instance, be certain you have them clearly labeled, in a safe place away from food, and that you use the correct concentration. Being lazy about chemicals can cause catastrophic results. A Utah woman even sustained serious injuries and filed a lawsuit after a Dickey’s BBQ gave her an iced tea contaminated with degreaser. Proper chemical storage is a serious issue. Make sure your restaurant is getting this right and training employees thoroughly.

6. Improper storage of utensils and dishes

What’s the big problem with improperly storing utensils and dishes? Mainly cross-contamination. Dishes should be stored in an area far away from raw food. Also, in-use utensils should be kept in a dipper-well with running water—not still water. And did you know that all dishes and utensils should be air dried instead of towel-dried to avoid contamination? Keep this all in mind to keep everything sanitized and safe.

7. Inadequate kitchen sanitation

It’s easy to get lax with your kitchen sanitation, particularly during busy times like weekends and holidays. Also, employees and servers might not pay as much attention as they should to their closing cleaning duties after a long day. For instance, bacteria and mold can easily grow at the bottom of the ice bin, and soda fountain nozzles can become breeding grounds for bacteria. Be sure every employee understands the vital role they play in the sanitation of the restaurant, and consider rewarding them for their hard work and attention to detail in these matters.

How can you avoid health code violations?

So now that you know a bit more about the most common health code violations, what steps can you take to avoid them? 

  1. Set an example
  2. Be vigilant
  3. Have thorough onboarding training
  4. Recognize employees who are dedicated to sanitation
  5. Review food safety policies regularly
  6. Have proper food safety technology

Set an example

It’s hard for workers to feel motivated to follow important health practices if they see you not following them. As a restaurant owner, it’s critical that anytime you step into your restaurant you abide by the same rules as other food handlers, particularly if you’re around the food. Wash your hands, brush under your nails, and make sure your hair is up. Leading by example is the most powerful way to lead.

Be vigilant

Don’t get sloppy. It might seem silly to be so stringent about every little health code, but health codes are no laughing matter. Be a stickler for them. Do not compromise your standards of cleanliness. When you focus on having an impeccably clean restaurant, you’ll not only avoid costly fines and consequences, but also impress guests.

Have thorough onboarding training

Each time a new employee comes on, they should be adequately trained on health and sanitation practices. Be sure everyone understands the gravity of failing to comply with health codes. Many restaurants will terminate employees if they are caught out of line in terms of sanitation even once. Be very strict, but be sure you set expectations. Nobody likes being blindsided and disciplined for a rule they didn’t know existed.

Recognize employees who are dedicated to sanitation

If you see an employee being extra vigilant about sanitation, call it out! Maybe provide extra incentives and recognition for employees who go above and beyond in their dedication to keeping the restaurant environment healthy and safe. It’s tough to put in extra work to clean and sanitize the restaurant only to feel your efforts are going unnoticed. Let your employees know you appreciate all the efforts they’re making.

Review food safety policies regularly

Repetition is the mother of all learning. We’ve all heard that one before, but it’s critical when it comes to sanitation and avoiding health violations in restaurants. Have trainings often. Once a quarter or more isn’t too often. When in doubt, err on the side of too many trainings. You do not want to be nailed with a hefty fine for a health code violation, or worse, have an employee caught on video not adhering to strict codes.

Have proper food safety technology

It’s hard to keep tabs on food temperatures and such without the right technology. We can help there. Our food safety software makes it easy to record food temperatures, set cleaning and maintenance schedules, and get notified to take corrective action if needed. 

We’re always here to help, so reach out for a free demo if you want to see how we can make managing your restaurant a little easier.

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