Every snack bar will get a visit from the Health Inspector. Instead of dreading it, be ready for it. They can show up at any time — even on a busy Saturday night.
While visiting a rink down South during a midday skating session, I was chatting with the owner when an official looking person wandered into the rink with a tablet in hand. She was from the Board of Health and was there for a spot inspection of the kitchen and snack bar area. I was excited to sit in on the process, and fully understand what they’re looking for, what sparks an infraction, and how we can do better.
This County Inspector was amenable and fair. She had been here before, more than once. I asked how her department divvied up the assignments. Did she draw the short or long straw today? “I am the department,” she replied. “I visit every restaurant in the entire County.” She said she would take a bit of time to punch in information into her tablet, and then she would go over it with us.
While she was entering information, I talked to the rink owner about their policy on how to store an ice scoop. Some states and counties want it outside the ice, others want it in the ice, in a corner, handle up. What’s up with that? She explained that her State wants it in the ice, scoop down, handle up, in the corner. That means fewer hands would touch it, or extraneous germs from the air, when it’s stored outside the bin. The Inspector chimed in. “Those scoops that are left out of the ice, tend to get sticky from all the spray from the soda fountains filling up cups,” she added. But every state is different, therefore, before you change your ice scoop policy at your rink café, make sure it’s in line with what your local jurisdiction expects from you.
After that, I stopped talking and started observing. This health inspector was really liking certain songs, that were playing for the mid-week Home School skate. She most notably enjoyed upbeat tunes from the 1980s. Her head was bopping, toes tapping, and she made comments, “ooh, I like the music you’re playing today.” I don’t think that was planned, as this particular rink does play music from various genres during their public sessions.
For the most part, the rink’s kitchen surpassed cleanliness expectations during the inspection. But there were a few mistakes. For one, there were chemicals stored near food. This is a common violation in any restaurant inspection, and one that needs to be driven home with food service employees. All cleaning liquids, spray cleaners, soaps, etc., need to have their own shelf, away from food storage. This was corrected while the inspector was there, and noted on the survey.
Another issue that came up was an employee who washed her hands in the dish sink. Every kitchen needs a handwashing sink and that is where all hands are to be washed. Never in the triple partitioned sink.
And finally, there was the recurring problem of a small ring of scum forming on the ice machine door gasket. Management was right on that, too. In doing so, they brought their score up to a 97.
These grades are available online to anyone who wants to see them, so it’s always a good idea to make sure you do everything you can to strive for a perfect 100. Customers have your health score in the palm of their hand. Make sure it accurately reflects your establishment. And it needs to be clean.
Some of the other things they check: The temperature of the hot water setting. The use of tongs and gloves.
Obvious vermin/insect droppings. The entire list can be found on your county’s website. Make sure every employee is trained on proper food handling and make sure to enforce it. It’s not only for when the Inspector is there. So a surprise inspection is never a big deal.
Help them get in and get out.
When the Inspector arrives, be cordial, be available, but don’t get in their way. When they present their findings, be agreeable. Arguing with the one person in whole county who has the power to shut you down, is never in your best interest. Show remorse/concern, and a willingness to come into compliance for any findings. Ask for a re-inspection in the near future. They may not want to come back in the near future, and may offer you a chance to rectify each failure on the spot.
Use a checklist to make sure these issues don’t come up again. The ice machine issue needs a weekly wipe down to keep slime from forming. Any cleaning supplies need to be returned to a designated shelf and never stored near food. And employees need to be trained on policies set forth by individual municipalities or at the state level. All restaurants, including skating rink snack bars, need to be aware of everything that is covered during a surprise inspection. Make sure to include it in your training program.