Restaurant Law Blog

Monday, June 24, 2013

Preparing for Your Department of Health Inspection

81% of New York City adults reported seeing the letter grades in restaurant windows. 88% of those who see the letter grades consider these grades when making their dining decisions.  As discussed in an earlier blog entry, sites like are planning to add restaurant grades to its restaurant review sections, and the iPhone App “ABCEats” provides restaurant grades and inspection reports for all New York City restaurants. Thus, it is easier than ever for a patron to find out about a restaurant’s letter grade, making the importance of that “A” grade even greater.

What can you do to best prepare your restaurant for its Department of Health inspection?

I. When Will You Be Inspected?

Although you can never be certain when your restaurant will be inspected, the Department of Health does provide a general timeline to help restaurant owners determine approximately when inspections will occur.

The initial inspection (F0) determines the interval between inspection cycles unless the re-inspection (F1) generates more points. Thus, if you received 0-13 points on your initial F0 inspection you will be re-inspected approximately 1 year from your initial inspection. If you received 14-27 points, you will be re-inspected in approximately 150-210 days. If you received more than 28 points, you will be re-inspected in approximately 90-150 days. 

Note that the DOH can inspect your restaurant whenever they believe that there is an increased risk to public health as a result of a condition existing or complained of at your restaurant

II. Common Violations

Some of the most common violations are also the most critical, generating a minimum of 5 violation points. These violations include: improper hot or cold food temperatures; bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food; improper employee hair coverings; sick employees; and poorly constructed or designed food contact surfaces.

The more you familiarize yourself with the Health Code, the better prepared you will be to prevent some of these common violations. The full text of the Health Code concerning food establishments can be found online at:

III. Prepare Your Employees

An example of a common violation documented in inspection reports reads:

“Potentially hazardous cold food, other than processed fish, not held at or below 41°F in that approx. 1 pound container of sliced cucumber registered at 57°F on top of counter in bar area on main floor. Food has been on top counter for 4 hours, as per operator’s statement.”

“As per operator’s statement” kills health grades faster than any other violation.  Remind your employees not to speak to the inspector. Appoint a manager to accompany the inspector around the restaurant to answer any questions and make sure the answers provided are accurate (e.g., food has been out for 4 hours vs. 2 hours).

Keep in mind that the Code now allows ready to eat/prepared foods to be out of temperature for up to 4 hours as long as the time and temperature is labeled at the beginning. A sample label will include the time the item was removed from the refrigerator, temperature at removal, temperature at 2 hours, and the time the food needs to be disposed of or served by.

V. After the Inspection

Review the inspection report and ask the inspector to correct or clarify violations, if necessary. Once the inspector leaves, begin gathering photographs, exterminator invoices, affidavits, and any other evidence that can help you contest the report.

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