For facility managers at foodservice establishments, ensuring commercial kitchens are in compliance with state and local health regulations is a critical responsibility. A failing health inspection grade not only can halt operations, but it could potentially lead to high repair costs as well as the loss of revenue and reputation.

One of the major violations that a commercial kitchen can receive is not following the proper safe food handling guidelines, as outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). An estimated 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses occur annually in the U.S. Many of these cases could be easily prevented if the food handlers had followed the correct food safety guidelines.

Since it is guaranteed that health inspectors will make an unannounced visit at least once a year, the best strategy for receiving a passing grade is advanced preparation, including implementing strict food safety guidelines with staff. Here are four ways facility managers can prepare their commercial kitchens for health inspection success and avoid avertable food safety violations.

  1. Familiarize yourself with government and state regulations. Every four years, FDA publishes the Food Code, a set of best practices and guidelines for state and local health departments to reference when creating their own health regulations. It is important to review both the Food Code and state rules to educate yourself and your employees on food safety concerns that apply to your operation. It is also important to be aware of any changes in the regulations each time a new Food Code is released. Regular staff meetings can also help to keep employees informed of newly instated guidelines, especially food handling practices related to allergies and the spread of bacteria and foodborne illness.
  2. Develop a kitchen cleaning checklist. Regular and thorough cleaning of the kitchen is a key way to avoid failing an inspection. Bacteria can spread quickly throughout a kitchen if the staff does not frequently clean cooking utensils, countertops, food and especially their hands. To maintain the highest standard of cleanliness in your commercial kitchen, institute a kitchen cleaning checklist that details all of the cleaning and sanitation tasks that must be completed by employees throughout a shift as well as at the end of a shift. These lists typically include: washing and sanitizing all surfaces, frequently changing sanitizing water and rags, cleaning kitchen equipment such as fryers, grills and grease traps, emptying trash bins, sweeping and mopping the floor and more. It is also incumbent upon facility managers to regularly check the employees’ completed cleaning tasks to make sure they are being performed correctly. Without your employees’ cooperation and your continued follow up, it is easy to overlook important cleaning tasks that could cost you when a health inspector makes a visit.
  3. Invest in professional kitchen exhaust system maintenance. Commercial kitchen exhaust hoods are designed to collect airborne grease, which can become a dangerous fire hazard and impact the quality of food prepared in the kitchen. Grease can drip from a hood system on to food, which can lead to pathogenic organisms contaminating the food. Any cooking equipment and utensils that experience grease dripping can no longer be considered clean. While kitchen employees can clean the external kitchen hood, properly cleaning a hood exhaust system to meet health inspection standards is a complex process. To ensure the kitchen hood cleaning process is properly executed, it is best to enlist a professional that will guarantee your kitchen is both safe from fire and up to code.
  4. Conduct regular self-inspections. To help keep your commercial kitchen in line with health department standards, facility managers should conduct unexpected self-inspections. It is best to administer these inspections at varying times so that employees will be more attentive to their health and safety practices on a daily basis. These self-inspections will also inform you of any common and reoccurring violations that happen in your kitchen, such as unclean surfaces and utensils, raw meat not separated from ready-to-eat foods, meat and dairy cooked to the wrong internal temperature and food left unrefrigerated for too long. Check for common violations more frequently until the problem has been fully addressed, and reward employees who quickly make corrections.

Keeping these tips in mind, facility managers can ensure their kitchen is prepared for an unexpected—yet inevitable—health inspection and that their kitchen will continue to implement proper food handling practices to ensure both a healthier and cleaner cooking environment.

Breann Marvin-Loffing is the vice president of franchise operations at HOODZ International. For more information, visit or call 888-514-6639.