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Florida Restaurant Inspections Guidelines

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Hotels and Restaurants, Bureau of Sanitation and Safety Supervisors, are here to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, conducts regular inspections of public food service establishments to assure compliance with state sanitation and safety laws. Those establishments that do not comply with the laws are subject, pursuant to Florida law, to administrative disciplinary actions which can include license revocation, suspension or fine.

If you have questions or need additional information, contact the BPR Public Information Office at (850) 922-8981.

Florida Public Food Service Inspection Program

The Bureau of Sanitation and Safety Inspections conducts regular inspections of public food service establishments to assure compliance with all state sanitation and safety laws. By law, such establishments must receive a minimum of two unannounced inspections per year. The division strives for at least three, more if necessary. Florida is the only southern state that licenses and inspects restaurants on a statewide, not county-by-county, basis.

Sanitation And Safety Specialists

The Bureau of Sanitation and Safety Inspections employs Sanitation and Safety Specialists ("inspectors") who must be trained by a food service evaluation officer certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The inspector also must demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the Florida public food service laws and rules by passing administered practice tests and examinations, including the Certified Food Manager's exam -- the same exam taken by the restaurant managers. The inspector also must complete 20 hours of continuing education annually and must become certified as a special fire safety inspector by the State Fire Marshal.

The Inspection

Although all parts of the facility inspection are important, hand washing, food temperatures and food handling practices are of critical concern, and the inspector places major emphasis on these areas when conducting the inspection. Other areas covered during the inspection include: hot and cold food holding; food protection; food equipment and utensils; water and sewage; plumbing; toilet and wash facilities; garbage and refuse disposal; insect/rodent control; floors, walls and ceilings; lighting; ventilation; dressing rooms; and general safety.

Beginning The Inspection

An inspector conducts an inspection using the 60-item inspection checklist. He brings the appropriate field equipment such as a probe thermometer, alcohol swabs, registering thermometer and/or heat-sensitive tapes, a flashlight and test papers -- chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonia (chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonia are sanitizing agents).

Once on the premises, the inspector introduces himself to the restaurant manager and displays his official State of Florida identification. The inspector obtains the assurance of access to all areas that require inspection. The inspector invites the manager to accompany him on the inspection, and also offers to go over each item on the inspection report with the manager when the inspection is concluded.

First, the inspector looks for the establishment's state license. He checks the expiration date and compares the seating capacity on the license with the actual number of seats in the restaurant. The current ownership and business name are also verified, as are the alcoholic beverage license (if applicable) and the county occupational licenses. The inspector will then check for the Certified Food Managers' licenses and compare it with the list of food managers required to be maintained by the establishment. He also will ask to see the most recent inspection report the restaurant must keep on the premises to show to any patron who requests to see it.

Checking Outside

The inspector begins the actual inspection by perusing the surrounding areas of the restaurant. The inspector examines the rear of the building. He looks to see if the exit door opens outward, is self-closing, tight fitting, and vermin-proof. Does the garbage storage contain plastic bags or wet-strength paper bags? Does the dumpster lid close and are the plugs intact? Is the dumpster without leaks and rust? Do the dumpster, compactor and grease receptacles contain non-absorbent pads? Is a mop facility provided and in good repair? Is there any evidence of dumping waste water or grease onto the ground? Does the faucet designed to accept hoses contain a backflow protection device? The inspector also will note excessive deterioration of eaves or broken windows, etc., that may allow vermin to enter.

The inspector verifies the sewage disposal system of the establishment and records this information on the report. Has the system been approved and does it operate in a safe and sanitary manner? Next, the source of potable water for the establishment is verified and recorded on the report. Has the source been approved and is the supply adequate and sanitary? If a well serves an establishment, the inspector checks that the pump equipment is operational.

Checking Inside

That complete, the sanitation and safety inspector moves back inside. Is the dry food/supply storage system suitable and adequately illuminated? What is the source and condition of the food? Are the shelves adequately ventilated and clean? Are food items stored and shelved properly? Are toxic materials (cleaning chemicals, etc.) stored and shelved properly? Are the walls, ceilings, floors and shelves constructed of the proper materials? Are there signs of vermin?

The inspector inspects the refrigeration and freezer. What is the temperature, source, and condition of the food? Is it stored properly? Is the refrigeration suitable? Are the inside refrigerator lights adequate and shielded? Are thermometers provided and accurate? Is the refrigerator clean, in good shape and without leaks?

Food Preparation Area

Now, the most important part of the inspection -- the actual food preparation area. The inspector washes his hands before entering that area. While doing so, the inspector checks that hot and cold water, soap and towels are provided. He also notes if the plumbing is working properly.

While the inspector is in the food preparation area, staff food handling procedures are closely observed -- how food is stored, prepared and served. The inspector checks and records food temperatures, both hot and cold. How and when were the foods prepared? Were safe thawing practices followed? Have foods been contaminated by infected workers or from other sources, including cross-contamination? Does the potential exist for contamination of cooked food with soiled equipment and utensils?

The inspector also observes certain food items that have a higher potential for risk of mishandling due to large volume or multiple-step preparation. Some foods are more potentially hazardous than others and receive extra scrutiny: turkey, ham, roast beef, chicken, potato salad, gravy, barbecue beef and ribs, sausage, raw eggs, pork, macaroni salad, tuna salad, stew, soup, egg rolls and fried won-ton.

Checking For Cleanliness

Next, the inspection of the food preparation facilities is conducted. The inspector examines the condition of the stove, grill and deep-fat fryers. More specific areas such as the hoods, filters, vent ducts and ventilation fan will be examined. Additionally, the inspector will check the adequacy, condition and quality of the lighting system. The inspector looks at the fixed fire suppression systems and portable extinguishers, noting the dates they were last examined and tagged.

The condition of the walls, duckboards and mats in the embedded vicinity of the food preparation area is also noted. The inspector examines the condition of the food preparation tabletops, cutting boards and meat blocks as well as the condition and cleanliness of equipment and utensils used for food preparation. Are all hot food storage areas adequate? Are probe thermometers available and accurate? Are can openers, cooking utensils, storage drawers and shelves, knives and cooking containers free of food residue or any other dirt and grime?

An inspection of the operational facilities of the food service establishment, such as the dishwasher, dishwashing sink, and restroom facilities is conducted. The inspector looks at all mechanisms of the dishwasher to ensure they are clean, operational and at set standards. If there is no dishwasher, the dishwashing sink must contain the proper number of compartments, adequate sanitizing solution, and a test kit to monitor its strength. Faucets for the cross-connections should be designed to accept hoses provided with backflow prevention devices.

What about the ice machine -- is it clean and in good shape? How is the ice made? Is its scoop handle sitting out of the ice?

The inspector examines the restrooms. He checks their adequacy, condition and cleanliness. Are they well ventilated? Does everything work, including soap and towel dispensers? If the restroom is used by employees, it must have both hot and cold water, and the inspector makes sure both are working. He looks for the "employees must wash their hands before leaving" sign that must be posted in a conspicuous place.

Observing The Food Handlers

The personal hygiene of food handlers is carefully observed by the inspector. Are the food handlers clean and well-groomed, wear clean clothes and effective hair restraints? Does employee behavior result in contamination of food or food contact surfaces? Do employees thoroughly wash their hands? Do they do so in sinks other than a specified hand wash sink? In short, do the food handlers observe safe food handling practices?

Follow-up With The Manager

Once the inspection is completed, a process that takes about an hour, the results are analyzed to help prepare an "action plan" for the manager of the establishment when violations are found. The inspector explains the violations, and makes certain the manager understands what corrective action must be taken to be in compliance with the law. Non-critical violations must be corrected by the next routine inspection. The inspector asks the operator to review and sign the inspection report.

If critical violations are found, the inspector advises the manager he will return sooner to ensure that the violations have been corrected. If they are not, warnings of disciplinary action will ensue. If the uncorrected problems could pose an immediate threat to public health and safety, an emergency closure could be ordered.