Role of the County Health Inspector
Updated: Jun 21
The health inspector or the Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS) is not inspecting your facility with the intent of finding violations and deducting points. Our job is to ensure that you are operating your food service safely, according to the Food Sanitation Rules set forth by the Oregon Health Authority. You should know the rules and how to prepare and serve your specific cuisine safely. We are checking your processes, not telling you how to run your facility. As a food service owner, manager, chef, sous chef, cook, or server, it is your responsibility to know the code specific to Oregon. Here is a link to the Oregon Sanitation Rules. As a foodservice operator, you must know these rules and apply them to your food service.
It has happened more than once that I am in a facility and observe hot food being wrapped up and placed in a storage container before it has reached 41F or less. When I ask about the time and temperature requirements for proper cooling, I often meet with blank stares or ‘I don’t remember.
Improper cooling of a big batch of Shoyu Chicken. This was put away the previous night before it reached 41F. This bucket of chicken was discarded.
According to the CDC, the top five risk factors for foodborne illness in your facility are listed below.
1. Improper hot/cold holding temperatures of potentially hazardous food (TCS foods) -
Up to 90% of all food poisoning cases occur when potentially hazardous foods are not held at proper temperatures. Keep hot foods at 135F or above and cold foods below 41F. Your inspector will check your hot holding units and refrigeration.
2. Improper final cooking temperatures of food (heat kill step) -
Foods containing these raw animal foods shall be cooked to heat all parts of the food to a temperature and for a time, 15 seconds or more, that complies with one of the following methods based on the food that is being cooked.
Eggs, fish, pork, intact meat - 145F
Ground meats, pooled eggs, mechanically tenderized, and injected meats - 155F
Poultry (chicken, turkey, game hens, duck, etc.), and stuffed proteins, stuffed fish, stuffed meat, stuffed pasta, stuffed poultry, stuffed ratites, or stuffing containing fish, meat, poultry, or ratites - 165F
Your inspector might ask you the proper cook temperatures or check the temperature themselves of something coming off the grill.
3. Dirty and contaminated utensils and equipment -
To prevent the spread of germs, all in-use utensils for TCS foods must be kept in water 41F or less or 135F or higher, if not sent to the dishwasher to be washed, rinsed, and sanitized after each use. Equipment must be free of all food particles and residues when considered ‘clean.’ Continuous use of items such as a cutting board for hours on end to prep something like raw chicken must be washed, rinsed, and sanitized every four hours, along with the knife.
4. Poor employee health and hygiene -
Let’s go back to the basics. Your inspector will ask about your employee illness policy, when to restrict or exclude sick employees, and when they can safely return to work. Your inspector will also ask about the double handwashing requirements specific to Oregon. Proper handwashing is the number one way to prevent foodborne illness in your facility.
5. Food from unapproved sources -
Food must come from a reputable supplier or an inspected facility. This means that the source has a valid permit and is inspected regularly by a regulatory agency. Your inspector will check for appropriate labels; stamps on meat and shellfish tags if you have fresh oysters, clams, or mussels in-house.
Food from home or a restaurant you don’t own is not permitted in your facility.
With a focus on these top five areas, a lot of ground will be covered by your inspector. It is wise to answer honestly so any confusion or incorrect practices can be corrected. To be cited, the inspector must observe the violation, so questions on your procedures will not deduct points from your score but provide clarity when you are unsure of the proper way to do something. We are regulators and educators. If we cite you for a violation, we will explain the violation and correction.
We also have handouts you can download and post for your staff to see. Often they don’t ask questions for the same reason. We are a regulatory agency, yet here to help you be safe and successful as well.