Restaurant health inspections are conducted to ensure food is safe for human consumption and to minimise the risks of food-borne illness outbreaks. In Australia, health inspections are mandatory and are conducted by local Health Inspectors, often called Environmental Health Officers (EHOs).
Food businesses that fail their health inspection can face a damaged reputation, large fines and even business closure. But that doesn’t mean that health inspections have to be scary! EHOs conduct inspections to help your business make sure the safety of the public is prioritised. By ensuring your staff has the proper training and certification, along with implementing food safety procedures, your health inspection can be a stress-free experience.
Learn how your food business can easily pass a health inspection by following these food safety best practices.
Provide food safety training and certification to all staff
In Australia, anyone who works with food must be trained in food safety, as outlined by the Food Standards Code.
Additionally, food businesses in New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD), Victoria (VIC) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) must have a designated and fully trained Food Safety Supervisor (FSS) on staff at all times with the proper certification ready for inspection. In other states and territories where a Food Safety Supervisor is not a requirement, we still recommend nominating a FSS to help ensure your business is implementing the proper food safety practices and complying with all relevant laws.
The EHO will confirm that your food business has an appointed FSS and their certification on premises (if required), and that all Food Handlers are properly trained with the necessary skills in food safety.
While states and territories have specific requirements, we recommend that all managers, supervisors and employees who handle or serve food receive food safety training and certification. The Australian Institute of Food Safety’s (AIFS) nationally recognised Food Handler and Food Safety Supervisor courses provide workers with the knowledge needed to minimise food safety risks in a business. The more employees in your business who are trained and follow proper food safety practices, the easier it will be to pass your inspection!
Prioritise proper food safety procedures
If your business prioritises food safety practices at all times, you should have nothing to worry about. The EHO’s goal is to ensure your business is taking all the necessary steps to prevent food-borne illness. Prepare for your health inspection by ensuring proper protocols are in place, staff are properly trained and your business has a comprehensive Food Safety Plan.
The following are common checkpoints an EHO reviews during a health inspection. Note that these are general health inspection guidelines and not a full list of requirements, which you should get from your local health department.
Food Temperature Control
The EHO will check whether the business is storing, preparing and serving food at the right temperature, and that they are taking the necessary precautions to keep food out of the Temperature Danger Zone (between 5°C and 60°C). Using a properly calibrated thermometer, make sure that the following temperature controls are maintained:
- all food is cooked to an internal temperature of 75°C, with meat maintaining the temperature for at least two to three minutes
- hot foods are kept at a temperature of, or above, 60°C
- cold foods and refrigerators are kept at a temperature of, or below, 5°C
- freezers are kept at a temperature of, or below, -15°C
Food Storage and Preparation
Prevent cross-contamination risks by implementing proper storage and preparation practices:
- correctly label and cover all food
- keep high-risk foods such as raw meat, poultry and fish on the lower shelves of the refrigerator below cooked or ready-to-eat foods
- use different dishes and utensils when preparing cooked or raw foods
- label chemicals and pesticides and keep them away from food and food preparation areas
Good employee hygiene is integral in preventing food-borne illness outbreaks. The EHO will check whether employees are following proper hygiene standards, including:
- wearing clean work clothing
- using hair restraints such as hairnets or hats
- not wearing jewellery
- not coming into work if they are sick
Proper hand washing is also a key step in limiting food safety risks. Ensure that employees are following proper hand washing protocols. Hand washing stations must be clearly identified with proper signage, used only for hand washing and equipped with hot and cold running water, soap and paper towels.
Equipment Cleanliness and Maintenance
If not properly cleaned and maintained, equipment can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. The EHO will check that equipment is maintained properly. Protocols include:
- equipment, utensils, crockery and food contact surfaces do not have cracks, breakage or rough surfaces
- utensils and equipment are washed by hand using the two- or three-sink method, or are washed in a commercial dishwasher
- chemical sanitisers are properly used following the manufacturer’s instructions
Building Cleanliness and Maintenance
Keeping all areas of your business clean and sanitary will help prevent pathogens from growing and spreading within the business. Maintain proper sanitation procedures for these areas of the business by ensuring:
- all floors and surfaces are clean and in good condition
- the kitchen, dining areas and washrooms all have proper ventilation
- washrooms are equipped with a garbage container, toilet paper, hot and cold water, soap in a dispenser and paper towels
- regional building codes are followed, including proper lighting
If proper waste disposal procedures are not followed, waste can attract pests and contaminate food with bacteria. The EHO will verify that the business has strict procedures for waste management, including:
- waste is stored in a sanitary manner and garbage containers are not overflowing
- waste is removed from the kitchen at least once a day, or more frequently if needed
- waste containers are properly sealed and are pest-proof, leak-proof, non-absorbent and properly labelled to indicate the type of waste
- garbage containers are regularly cleaned and sanitised
Pest infestations are highly detrimental to a food business because they can cause biological contamination and spread diseases to humans. They are also difficult, time-consuming and expensive to eradicate. Stop pests from getting into your business by applying these preventive measures:
- cover or seal any openings where pests could enter
- regularly monitor the premises for signs of pest infestation
- follow proper food storage procedures and regularly inspect storage containers for bite marks or holes
Additional measures for COVID-19
To help ensure the safety of staff, customers and the general public, Australia’s states and territories have added guidelines and public health orders that food businesses must follow to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Restrictions vary by location, so we recommend that you stay on top of the evolving requirements in your area. AIFS regularly monitors food safety news as it relates to COVID-19 and provides updates as necessary.
Be sure to confirm the specific requirements in your area. Below are a few of the COVID-19 requirements that food businesses need to implement in New South Wales:
- A COVID-19 Safety Plan is in place and followed.
- A COVID-19 Safety Marshal is appointed for your business.
- Electronic entry records are kept outlining how your business is operating under its COVID-19 Safety plan, which must be provided to an authorised officer upon request.
- Staff are trained in how to operate according to the COVID-19 Safety Plan. This free online course will help educate staff about COVID-19.
- Density limits outlined by the state are implemented in your business.
- Operations allow for physical distancing requirements.
- Frequent cleaning and sanitation of high-touch areas are implemented.
- Employee health practices to help limit the spread of the virus are followed.
Use AIFS’s Restaurant Health Inspection Checklist to prepare for your next health inspection. Make sure each guideline is addressed for the next time an Environmental Health Officer pays your food business a visit. Note that this checklist is derived from the NSW Food Authority’s Food Premises Assessment Report (FPAR). While it is a great starting point in making sure proper food safety measures are in place, contact your local public health department to confirm the requirements specific to your region.