A Guide to Food Safety Practices in Virginia Restaurants
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A person who wishes to serve food to the public is required by law to first obtain a permit from the Virginia Department of Health. These permits are issued following a review of facility plans and menu and assuring, by inspection, compliance with food safety standards and practices. Routine inspections during subsequent operation of the food service assess the operator's success in assuring that routine practices are conducted in a safe and sanitary manner.
If deficiencies are observed during these routine inspections, they are described in an inspection report with reference to a relevant section of the Virginia Food Regulations. Such deficiencies are typically classified as either critical, posing a direct or immediate threat to the safety of the food being served, or non-critical, representing a failure of cleaning or maintenance.
Ideally, an operation would have no critical violations, or none which are not corrected immediately and not repeated. In our experience, it is unrealistic to expect that a complex, full-service food operation can routinely avoid any violations.
Keep in mind that any inspection report is a "snapshot" of the day and time of the inspection. On any given day, a restaurant could have fewer or more violations than noted in the report. An inspection conducted on any given day may not be representative of the overall, long-term cleanliness of an establishment. Also, at the time of the inspection violations are recorded but are often corrected on-the-spot prior to the inspector leaving the establishment.
About The Inspection Process and Enforcement Actions
- Inspection Frequency:
Restaurant inspections are normally scheduled for one to four inspections per year, depending on the complexity of the menu, how much food is made from raw products, and how much is made in advance rather than cooked-to-order. Food-borne illnesses can increase with the number of times that a food product is handled during preparation. (For example: restaurants that handle food more frequently are inspected more frequently than a restaurant that serves food such as a sandwich made to order.)
Violations (Two types of violations may be cited):
- Critical Violations: Violations of the Food Regulations, which, if left uncorrected, are more likely than other violations to directly contribute to food contamination, illness, or environmental degradation. Examples of critical violations include poor temperature control of food, improper cooking, cooling, refrigeration or reheating temperatures. Such problems can create environments that cause bacteria to grow and thrive, which puts the consumer at risk for food-borne illness.
- Non-Critical Violations: Violations not directly related to the cause of food-borne illness, but if uncorrected, could impede the operation of the restaurant. The likelihood of food-borne illness in these cases is very low. Non-Critical violations, if left uncorrected, could lead to Critical violations. Examples of non-critical violations include a lack of facility cleanliness and maintenance or improper cleaning of equipment and utensils.
- Types of Inspections
- Routine: Routine: This is a periodic inspection, usually unannounced, that is conducted to determine ongoing regulatory compliance. An inspector conducts a complete inspection, assessing compliance with all items in the Virginia Food Regulations.
- Risk Factor: This is an inspection conducted to assess the degree of active managerial control an operator has over foodborne illness risk factors. By focusing inspection son the control of foodborne illness risk factors, inspectors can be assured that they are making a great impact on reducing foodborne illness.
- Follow-up: This is an inspection for the specific purpose of re-inspecting items that were not in compliance at the time of the routine inspection.
- Critical Item or Critical Procedures Evaluation: This is an inspection during which only compliance with critical sections of the regulations or critical procedures are evaluated and documented. This inspection focuses on those portions of the regulations where violations could cause food-borne illness.
- Training: The inspector visits the restaurant to present a formal training event for the restaurant's staff.
- Complaint: This is an inspection conducted as a result of a complaint received by the health department. The specifics of the complaint will be evaluated and discussed with the person in charge.
The Department of Health imposes the following types of enforcement actions:
- Suspension of permit to operate for imminent health hazard: The permit is suspended and a directive is given to cease and desist using unsafe portions of the facility or the entire facility to ensure public health. A hearing is not required to suspend a permit, but the opportunity must be given for a hearing after the suspension is in effect. Grounds for closure due to imminent public health risks may include but are not limited to:
- No hot water
- Sewage backups or overflows
- No utilities
- Pest infestation
- Contaminated food
- Food-borne illness outbreak
- Inadequate refrigeration
- Revocation of permit to operate: Restaurant is closed due to accumulation of repeat, continuing and flagrant violations of the regulations that could lead to food-borne illness. Before the revocation, an opportunity for a hearing must be given to the restaurant operator.
- Summons: An order to appear in court for alleged violations of failure to comply with applicable laws.