From the outside, running a safe restaurant may seem like no big deal. But those within the restaurant industry know there are dozens of rules and regulations they need to follow to legally stay in business. While a restaurant may have its own sourcing and kitchen rules and policies, the government has the final say in what you can actually serve in a restaurant.
Because maintaining public health is such a big priority for the government, they’ve set up different agencies to regulate the health and safety of restaurant customers. These agencies oversee the quality of food, the ways the food is cooked, and the cleanliness of the kitchen and employees.
Below we will answer the question: “Who is responsible for food safety in a restaurant?” Plus, we will dive into the specifics of who regulates restaurant safety and how restaurants need to cooperate with these regulations to stay in business.
Which Government Agency Regulates Food Safety?
A simple enough question, but there is no single specific agency responsible for the nation’s food safety. Rather, there are hundreds—including federal, state, and local governments.
Food Safety and Inspection Service
Also known as the FSIS, the Food Safety and Inspection Service is a branch of the US Department of Agriculture that is responsible for managing the quality of meat, poultry and eggs, and ensuring that they’re correctly labeled and packaged.
US Food and Drug Administration
While you’ve definitely heard of the FDA, you might not be familiar with what they actually oversee. The FDA is responsible for ensuring that foods (except meat, poultry, and eggs) are sanitary and safe to eat. It’s important to note that the FDA is also responsible for the quality of cosmetics, vitamins, vaccines, animal products, and tobacco.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
While the CDC doesn’t directly oversee restaurant food quality and safety, their efforts to investigate food poisoning and disease outbreaks have helped reduce foodborne illnesses. The CDC is critical on a local level as well, working to monitor foodborne diseases and illness outbreaks.
As we mentioned above, state and local agencies play a huge role in monitoring and regulating restaurant food safety—and food safety in general. The specifics of the agencies depend on each particular state, so make sure to review this list of state food health agencies to understand the role your state’s agency will play in the food safety rules of your restaurant.
Now that you have a general understanding of the government agencies that monitor food safety in restaurants, let’s take a look at the inspection process.
Restaurant Safety Inspections
Health inspections are almost always scheduled and governed by local and state agencies. The frequency and specifics of the inspections are largely dependent on the community your restaurant is in. Things that vary from state to state include the frequency of inspections, the scoring scale, and the inspection form.
Generally speaking though, inspectors will be looking at these four things.
1. Safe Food Source
While the federal agencies we mentioned above, like the FSIS and the FDA, are responsible for regulating food sources at a high-level, restaurant inspectors will be looking for things like safe food storage, expiration dates, and food quality.
2. Safe Cooking Temperatures
One of the leading causes of food poisoning is undercooked meat and poultry. Inspectors will verify that food handlers cook meat at the proper temperatures to kill bacteria that can cause major foodborne illnesses. They will also check that you’re storing food at the right temperatures.
3. Safe Cooking Techniques
While this is a pretty generic category, it’s inclusive of all cooking techniques. Things the inspector might ask include:
- What utensils are you using?
- how often is your grill cleaned?
- How are you storing poultry?
- Is there any cross-contamination?
4. Safe Hygiene
Not only will inspectors look at the cleanliness and hygiene of your kitchen, but they’ll also look at your staff. Hand washing should be a regular occurrence, and hairnets and gloves should be used when appropriate. Additionally, your kitchen should be free of debris, and there should be separate areas for trash and dishwashing.
Once your inspection is complete, you will receive a score. Depending on where you’re located, the score might be a graded A-C score, or it could be just a pass/fail. Not only are these scores shared with the public in some way, but they’re also a huge factor in determining if you can continue to stay in business.
Learn More About Restaurant Food Safety Regulations
Great care has gone into ensuring the American public is safe when they go out to eat—and their safety all boils down to your food safety practices. To ensure your restaurant is up to food safety standards and that your customers are consuming healthy and safe food, make sure all your restaurant employees have completed food handler training. Sign up today!