Food Safety Food Manager

How Do I Keep My Business Open After a Health Code Violation?

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Trust20 Contributors • 9 minute read

We're all familiar with the thrill of the lunch rush–the endless sea of orders, the sizzle of the grill, the satisfying clang of pots and pans. But what happens when the dreaded health inspector shows up? Suddenly, the once-comfortable kitchen feels like a battle zone. All it takes is one missed detail, and you're staring down the barrel of a health code violation.

So, what exactly is a health code violation? Essentially, it's a breach of the regulations set forth by your local health department to ensure that food is safe to eat and prepared in a clean and hygienic environment. From improper food storage to inadequate hand washing, a kitchen can fall short of these guidelines in myriad ways.

While it’s something you want to avoid, take some comfort in knowing that just because you've received a citation doesn't mean you're out of the game. With a bit of know-how (and a lot of elbow grease), you can whip your kitchen into tip-top shape–and maybe even snag an A rating for next time while you're at it. 

So grab your aprons, roll your sleeves up, and dive into the wild world of health code violations.

What Are the Most Common Health Violations Found in Restaurants?

What Can a Serious Violation Do to a Foodservice Operation?

So You Got a Health Code Violation? Here’s What You Should Do Next

How Can You Avoid Health Code Violations?

Key Takeaways

What Are the Most Common Health Violations Found in Restaurants?

When it comes to health violations, a few tend to crop up more often than others.1 

Improper Food Storage

The first is improper food storage. It can take many forms, from not keeping raw meat separate from other foods to leaving ingredients at room temperature for too long.

Any of these things can lead to foodborne illness, which is not only unpleasant but can also be dangerous, especially for vulnerable populations like young children or older adults. You’ll want to follow best practices for food storage, including proper labeling and temperature control, to avoid falling afoul of this particular violation.

Poor Sanitation

Another common health violation is poor sanitation practices. It might mean failing to wash hands frequently or not cleaning equipment and surfaces thoroughly.

Even something as seemingly innocuous as wiping down a counter with a dirty cloth can harbor harmful bacteria that can contaminate food. Regular cleaning and disinfecting are essential to keeping your kitchen up to code and keeping your customers healthy.

Lack of Pest Control

The third major health violation is related to pest control. Nobody wants to see a roach scurrying across their plate, and unfortunately, this is an all-too-common occurrence in restaurants that don't take pest control seriously. Factors like poor waste management and clutter can attract pests, so it's essential to prioritize cleanliness and good hygiene practices.

Ranking the Severity of Health Code Violations

One thing to note is that not all health violations are equally serious.

The health department typically classifies violations into three categories: critical, non-critical, and repeat.2 Critical violations are those that pose an immediate risk to public health, while non-critical violations are those that are less serious but still potentially problematic. 

Repeat violations are those that the health department previously cited an establishment for but a business did not address adequately. These can be especially problematic, as they indicate a pattern of neglect that can lead to further issues down the line.

What Can a Serious Violation Do to a Foodservice Operation?

In today's world, word travels fast, especially when it comes to negative news.

The moment a customer finds out that your establishment received a health violation, they will be more hesitant to eat there, and they might even tell their friends not to go as well. With social media, word travels fast, and even if you act just as fast (or faster!) to rectify the issue that caused the violation, it will be tough to undo that reputational damage.

That brings us to our next point: financial repercussions. Depending on the severity of the violation, you could face fines, legal fees, and even closure. Penalties can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, and if you end up in court, you might have to pay legal fees.

If the violation is severe enough, the health department can shut down your operation until you address the issue. Not only does this mean lost revenue, but you also have to pay to fix whatever caused the violation in the first place.

Then there's the issue of employee morale. If your operation gets dinged for a violation, your staff might feel embarrassed or ashamed. They might feel like management doesn’t have their back or that their hard work is going unrecognized. That can lead to higher turnover rates, affecting the quality of service you provide to customers.

Plus, if your staff feels like they're working in an environment where violations are the norm, they might not take hygiene and safety as seriously as they should.

And let's not forget about legal liability. Your operation could be held responsible if a customer gets sick or injured because of a health code violation. That could result in lawsuits, settlements, and even more negative publicity–not to mention the emotional toll this situation can take on you and your staff. 

So You Got a Health Code Violation? Here’s What You Should Do Next

So, you've just received a health code violation from the local health department. That can be a scary and stressful situation, but don't panic–there are steps you can take to fix the issue and get your establishment back in compliance.

The Logistics

First, let's talk about what actually happens when you receive a violation. The local health department has the authority to inspect your food establishment at any time during your hours of operation without prior notice.

During the inspection, the inspector will evaluate your establishment for compliance with local health codes.3 This includes everything from food temperatures to the cleanliness of your kitchen.

If the inspector finds violations, they will document them and classify them as critical or non-critical. Again, critical violations pose an imminent health hazard, such as food that is not stored at the proper temperature or improper handwashing. Non-critical violations, such as a dirty floor or missing equipment, are less severe but still require attention and correction.

Once the inspector has completed the inspection and documented any violations, they will provide you with a report detailing the violations found. This report should include information on how to correct the violations and a deadline for re-inspection.

Understand the Violation

Take some time to understand the violation. Don't just brush it off and assume it's something minor. Take the violation seriously. Look into the explanation of the violation, the reason behind it, and the possible consequences.

A health inspector is not trying to make your life difficult; their job is to ensure food safety and prevent customers from getting ill. Ignoring the violation can have serious repercussions, such as fines or your business being shut down. 

Address the Violation

Once you’ve understood the violation, it’s time to take action. It’s important to address the violation as soon as possible. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you will only attend to the violation when you have the time. The longer you wait, the greater the risk to your customers and your business.

Start implementing those measures now if it’s a simple fix like wearing gloves or hairnets. For more complicated violations like unsafe food temperatures, stop serving the affected food immediately. If you cannot quickly solve the health risks, you might need to close the business temporarily until you can find a solution.

Some action, even if it’s not perfect, is better than doing nothing. Not addressing the violation can lead to even more severe consequences. In extreme cases, you could face steeper fines, business closure, or even imprisonment. So don't take it lightly.

Timeliness is crucial when dealing with health code violations. Swiftly correcting the violation demonstrates that you take food safety seriously and helps you avoid negative consequences. On the other hand, ignoring the violation or procrastinating can result in serious consequences and increasing damage to your reputation.

Remember–if you neglect a health code violation, you risk significant consequences (like fines, temporary closures, and a decline in your reputation). In extreme cases, the health department could revoke your business license. Moreover, if your customers get sick, they could file a lawsuit against you, leading to a significant financial burden.

Prevent it From Happening Again

Apart from addressing the violation, preventing it from happening again is critical. Training your staff on proper food handling and sanitation practices can help you avoid future violations. 

Food safety is always a work in progress, and regulations constantly evolve to reflect new risks. As a result, it's essential to keep up with regulatory changes and maintain compliance. That can help prevent potential violations and improve your restaurant's safety record.

How Can You Avoid Health Code Violations?

Here are some simple and effective strategies you can rely on to help you stay ahead of the game and keep your kitchen running smoothly.

Use Inspection Reports to Identify Areas of Improvement

The best way to prevent health code violations is to understand what the health department expects of you. You can do this by reviewing inspection reports and identifying areas of improvement. Learn from your past mistakes and ensure you are not repeating them.

By using these reports, you can specifically identify the areas where you may have slipped up and work to rectify them.

Clearly Communicate Expectations

Another key factor is to communicate expectations to your staff members clearly. Your staff should be aware of the health codes and standards that apply to their roles, and you should set clear expectations with them.

A lack of communication and understanding can result in violations that could lead to serious health issues.

Offer Thorough Onboarding Training and Retraining

Training is key when it comes to preventing health code violations. When onboarding new team members, they must undergo thorough training on proper food handling and sanitation techniques.

And remember that the training process doesn’t end once an employee starts working there. You need to retrain your staff regularly so that they stay up to date with the latest industry standards.

Review Food Safety Policies Regularly 

Reviewing and updating your food safety policies regularly is a must. Health standards and regulations are constantly changing, so updating your policies is necessary to stay on top of compliance.

Keep a Cleaning and Sanitation Checklist

A well-documented cleaning and sanitation checklist will ensure your staff members maintain a clean and healthy environment to prepare food. 

A clean kitchen decreases the risk of contamination and other health code violations by equipping your team with the steps they need to take to properly clean the establishment according to health code standards. 

Keep and Review Temperature Monitoring Logs

Temperature monitoring logs are another essential tool for staying in compliance. Ensure all refrigerators and freezers are properly monitored and all logs are completed accurately. 

When reviewing these logs, look for any potential issues or discrepancies, such as fluctuating temperatures or prolonged exposure to warm temperatures. That can help you identify areas where you need to make adjustments or take corrective action. 

Key Takeaways

Receiving a health code violation doesn’t have to be the end of the world–but it should be a wake-up call that something needs to change in your foodservice establishment. Health code violations can damage your reputation, put your customers at risk, and cost you a lot of money.

Don’t panic. Instead, take action. Trust20 is here to help. We have a wide variety of products meant to train food handlers, food managers, and anybody else who wants to stay on top of health code regulations.

With Trust20, you'll gain the knowledge and skills you need to avoid violations and keep your customers safe. Don't wait until the next inspection to get serious about health code compliance. Check out Trust20's products today and start taking your food safety seriously.

After all, prevention is always better than cure-and nobody wants to face the consequences of a health code violation.

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  1. Di Lewis: Restaurant Health Code Violations And How to Avoid Them
  2. StateFoodSafety: How to Ace Your Health Inspections
  3. NYC Health Department: What to Expect When You’re Inspected: A Guide for Food Service Operators