The purpose of a food safety inspection is to ensure that food is clean and safe for human consumption. Regular inspections minimise the spread of illness and death from food-borne illness.
A visit from your local Health Inspector doesn't have to be stressful. With the right training and food handling procedures in place, passing a food safety inspection in Australia can be a positive collaboration between foodservice operators and government agencies.
To ensure that your food business passes inspection, we recommend taking a two-step approach:
- Know what Health Inspectors (also called Environmental Health Officers or EHOs) are looking for.
- Provide food safety training and certification to all employees at your business.
What are health inspectors looking for?
An Inspector is looking to prevent food-borne illness by monitoring the following:
- personal hygiene of Food Handlers
- time and temperature control of food
- cleanliness and maintenance of the premises
The Inspector will examine all entrances and exits, dining rooms, washrooms, server stations, kitchens, food delivery/storage areas, employee break rooms and waste disposal facilities. We recommend you do the same. Pay special attention to the following areas:
Time and temperature control
To ensure that food is being stored, prepared and served at the correct temperatures, always be aware of the Temperature Danger Zone (5°C – 60°C). The Inspector will have recently calibrated their thermometer; you should do the same.
Once properly calibrated, use your thermometer to confirm that:
- cooked high-risk foods (also called potentially hazardous foods) reach an internal temperature of 75°C or higher
- hot food (typically found in hot tables, buffets and serving dishes) is held at a temperature of 60°C or above
- refrigerators remain at or below a temperature of 5°C
- frozen food is kept at or below -15°C
Inspectors will also observe food preparation, storage and holding processes to ensure that:
- cooked high-risk foods are thawed correctly, processed quickly and cooled rapidly
- employees are following the 2 hour/4 hour rule, which states that:
- high-risk foods that have been in the Temperature Danger Zone for two hours are ok to use or put back in the fridge
- high-risk foods that have been in the Temperature Danger Zone for between two and four hours are ok to use but not to put back in the fridge
- high-risk foods that have been in the Temperature Danger Zone for more than four hours must be thrown out
Food storage and preparation
You must store and handle food properly to avoid cross-contamination. There are three types of food contamination:
- biological contamination (e.g. bacteria, viruses)
- physical contamination (e.g. broken glass, metal staples)
- chemical contamination (e.g. detergent, sanitiser)
Cross-contamination happens when foods are incorrectly handled, moved or put away incorrectly. Be sure to do the following to prevent cross-contamination:
- Store raw meat, poultry and fish in the fridge on shelves below prepared or ready-to-eat foods.
- Use separate utensils/equipment to prepare cooked and raw foods.
- Prepare allergen-free meals separately using separate utensils and equipment.
- Label, date and cover all food in coolers and in dry storage.
- Store chemicals (e.g. cleaners, sanitisers) away from food storage or preparation areas.
The Inspector will scrutinise the cleanliness of a Food Handler, their clothing and the accessories they wear. To ensure that you pass inspection, employees must maintain a high standard of personal hygiene. Employees should arrive to work clean and healthy and remain so throughout their shift.
Ensure that employee hand washing stations:
- are equipped with hot and cold running water, soap in a dispenser and a hand drying method (e.g. paper towels, hand dryer)
- are used for the sole purpose of hand washing
- are easily identifiable by signage
Make sure that Food Handlers:
- wear clean garments
- wear proper hair restraints (hair/beard nets, hats)
- wash hands thoroughly whenever they are likely to be a source of contamination (e.g. before handling food, after handling raw food, after using the toilet, after touching or scratching their body)
- do not wear jewellery
- are in good health
Remember that Food Handlers are prohibited from working with food if they have any of the following symptoms:
- sore throat
- infected cuts, burns or sores
- discharge from eyes, ears or nose
Cleanliness and sanitation
Cleaning and sanitising isn't just an essential part of food safety — it's a legal requirement. Failure to maintain high standards of cleanliness and sanitation in your food business can cost you big on your health inspection report. To make sure your Inspector is satisfied, be sure to do the following:
- Clean and sanitise all items used to serve food to customers (e.g. crockery, cutlery, glassware), preferably in a commercial dishwasher.
- Always follow cleaning (which removes food, grease and dirt but does not kill bacteria) with sanitising (using either steam, hot water over 77°C or a chemical sanitiser).
- Make sure sanitisers are used correctly with regards to product dilution, water temperature and contact time (as per manufacturer's instructions).
The Inspector will also check that your equipment is clean and in good working order. Small cracks and rough surfaces are a breeding ground for bacteria. Food prepared or served on a surface with even the smallest crack can easily harbour dangerous bacteria that can contaminate food. Repair or replace food contact surfaces, glassware or crockery that have cracks or breakage.
Building cleanliness and maintenance
All areas of your business, including employee break areas and offices, will be inspected, as bacteria and other microorganisms in one area can easily spread to another. Make sure that:
- floors and surfaces in customer and employee areas are clean and in good condition
- adequate lighting is provided throughout your business (refer to regional building codes)
- the kitchen, bathrooms and dining rooms are properly ventilated
- toilets are well-equipped with toilet paper, a garbage container, hot and cold water, soap in a dispenser and a hand drying method (e.g. paper towels, hand dryer)
Waste storage and removal
Whether you’re disposing of used cooking oil, food waste or hazardous waste, make sure to manage these outputs efficiently. Partnering with industry professionals in the waste removal sector is highly recommended. Ensure that:
- waste is removed from the food preparation area on a daily basis, or more often if necessary
- waste/garbage containers are leak-proof, pest-proof, non-absorbent and have tight-fitting lids
- containers are fitted with bin liners and are regularly cleaned and sanitised to remove food residues and odours
- garbages are never allowed to overflow
We strongly recommend that you enlist and maintain the services of an accredited pest removal company. Although not a requirement to pass an inspection, it is the easiest way to prevent pests from entering your business. Ensure that:
- any openings where pests could enter are covered
- food is stored on shelves off the floor and away from the wall
- food waste/unused food is not left laying around
- dining rooms, kitchen and food storage areas are free from pest droppings or other signs of pests (e.g. hairs, tracks, piles of nesting materials such as paper or other soft materials)
- packaged food has no bite marks, holes or tears
Why provide food safety training and certification to all employees?
Under federal law, all Food Handlers in Australia are required to be trained and have the necessary skills to handle food safely and hygienically. All food businesses and related organisations (e.g. child/aged care facilities, school canteens) within Australia must comply with this law.
In New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), Victoria (VIC) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), it is also mandatory to have a fully-trained Food Safety Supervisor at every business location. In other states and territories, it is strongly recommended that you nominate a Food Safety Supervisor to ensure that your business is complying with all relevant legislation, and for the protection of your customers and your business.
The two main levels of food safety training are:
During your inspection, the Inspector will verify:
- you have appointed a Food Safety Supervisor (FSS) and their nationally recognised certificate is on the premises (if required by your state or territory)
- all Food Handlers in your business have the necessary skills and knowledge to handle food safely
The easiest way to ensure that your food business meets these compliance requirements and passes inspections is to provide food safety training and certification to all employees who handle food in your business. By investing in training and education, you are investing in the success and long-term health of your brand.
Remember: Inspectors have the public's best interest in mind, but they understand that closing a business is a serious decision that impacts the livelihood of many employees. Consider health inspections an opportunity for you to identify ways that you can improve, and understand that an Inspector is there to help your business, not close it.
What's the best way to comply with food safety laws?
The Australian Institute of Food Safety's (AIFS) Food Handler and Food Safety Supervisor courses have been developed to teach Australian food workers how to safely handle food to reduce food poisoning and other food safety risks, and to help food businesses comply with food safety laws and regulations (and pass food safety inspections) with ease. For more information, go to foodsafety.com.au.