The Recipe for Success: How to Prevent a Food Security Disaster

As an operator, one of our biggest fears or cause for panic is the arrival of the local health inspector. Why that ? Most restaurant workers I speak to tell me that they are unrealistic in their demands and that what they expect is impossible to achieve.

My first answer is: Why?

I get all the standard answers — I have too much to do, I haven’t been trained, I don’t have the tools, they don’t understand how hard it is to run a restaurant, I lack the personal, the boss won’t solve anything. Maybe my favorite is “no matter how high we score, people will come because they love us”.

I listen, then remind them that one of the top priorities of a health inspector is to keep people from getting sick. I recount an experience I had with a local restaurant where someone “had the sniffles” and was allowed to work because they were short of staff that day (the manager’s words when I spoke to him) . I paid my check and left immediately. Shortly after, I caught the flu, which turned into pneumonia. I was hospitalized for 5 days; my whole life came to an abrupt end.

It was an event in my life that could have been avoided if the manager had taken his responsibility to the public more seriously.

There are very basic things that we can focus on throughout our shift to reduce the anxiety felt by our team, and therefore improve our standards according to health codes. They are:


  1. Is food stored in appropriate containers and protected from contamination?
  2. Are hazardous substances clearly labeled (such as cleaning chemicals) and stored separately from food products and utensils/small food items?
  3. Are perishable cold foods stored in proper refrigerators below 41 degrees Fahrenheit?
  4. Are equipment and food contact surfaces clean, smooth and in good condition?
  5. Do all fridges and freezers have calibrated and working thermometers?
  6. Are all products stored at least 6 inches off the ground?


  1. Are all hands clean, hats and uniforms clean?
  2. Are all sinks stocked with soap and paper towels?
  3. Do food handlers wash their hands up to the elbows for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before starting or continuing their shift, touching a foreign object (cash on the phone), going to the bathroom, smoking or at any other time during a shift?
  4. Do employees refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in food production areas?
  5. Are all foods handled in a safe and hygienic manner by wearing disposable gloves or using other protective barriers (wax paper, tongs, etc.)?


  1. Is there a red sanitizer bucket at each station with a towel fully submerged in the sanitizer solution?
  2. Are equipment and small items of sanitary design and in good working order?
  3. Are test strips available?
  4. Is the three-compartment sink clean, installed correctly, and used only for washing utensils, small dishes, and pieces of equipment and never used for cleaning or food production?
  5. Is clean linen stored properly and separated from dirty and used linen?
  6. Are serving utensils stored either in food items with handles extended (if applicable) or stored properly in the designated space in the kitchen?
  7. Are single-serving utensils and containers used only once and disposed of correctly?
  8. Is there an adequate supply of hot water available?
  9. Are the appropriate cleaning products available and used?

This, of course, is just a taste of what inspectors are looking for. We know that though, don’t we? We also know deep down that these inspectors aren’t really trying to give us a hard time or be difficult. We insist on it because our business is one of instant gratification. Every person who walks into our restaurant wants something now. We are pulled in so many directions. For this reason, we focus on the customer experience. After all, they are the reason we are in business and why we stay in business. We must at least meet their expectations, but focus the training on exceeding their expectations.

The way to minimize the fear of inspection is to inspire confidence. As far as the health department is concerned, the best defense is to have as many people trained in sanitation as possible. According to the health code, we are required to have one person on each shift certified as a QFO (Qualified Food Operator). If we can surround this QFO with a team of educated people, health inspections become less intimidating, less frightening. You have a team all working towards a common goal, to protect people from harmful bacteria.


Mark Moeller is founder and president of The Recipe of Success, a national restaurant consulting firm. For more information, visit

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