How Metro D.C. Restaurants Can Make Health Inspectors Happy


Health inspectors see a variety of food-related issues every day. Many of the problems they find in Washington, D.C. foodservice operations are repeat offenses that keep happening over and over again, despite the fact that no foodservice operator wants to make customers sick. Usually, an operation just doesn’t see or have time to see the bigger picture – that what they are actually doing could make their customers sick.

At Alto-Hartley, one of our goals is to help promote health code compliance. We sat down with Alexandria, Virginia health inspector, Michele Howard, who prefers her official title of Environmental Health Technical Specialist with the Alexandria Health Department. Here’s what she said:

5 Minutes with an Environmental Health Specialist

Alto-Hartley: What is the top health issue that foodservice operations face today?

Howard: The top health issue facing foodservice operations today is lack of Active Managerial Control. There should be someone “in charge” with proper food safety training who watches what the staff does. Do the food service employees wash their hands when they are supposed to? What about glove use? Are dishes/equipment/utensils washed, rinsed, and sanitized properly? Are hot holding and cold holding temperatures being taken? What about cooling? Do they exclude sick employees? Does anyone check receiving temperatures for TCS foods?

Hopefully, you can understand how all this relates back to health issues. If there is Active Managerial Control in place, the foodservice operation should be able to produce safe food.

Alto-Hartley: Why is warewashing temperature so often overlooked?

Howard: We can refer back to the first question for this, as well. If the people with the training and knowledge in food safety don’t train staff and then watch what staff are doing, we can’t be sure anyone pays attention to this item.

Everyone is busy. We are all doing more with less, but at some point, there is just too much for staff to do. If employees are not properly trained (no one told/showed them how to do that particular job duty), it will not be checked by anyone. The dishwasher doesn’t know they need a certain water temperature to wash the dishes (or that they shouldn’t handle clean dishes with dirty gloves/hands).

Alto-Hartley: What can operators do to ensure their dishes and wares are being cleaned properly?

Howard: This is hard to answer easily because there are different methods of warewashing. In a chemical sanitizing dish machine, the sanitizer concentration needs to be checked! I have seen sanitizer containers that are empty, but staff doesn’t check sanitizer concentration so no one notices there isn’t any sanitizer being dispensed! Then when a new container of sanitizer is put into use, they need to make sure they prime the line and then check to see the sanitizer concentration is correct. Sometimes the sanitizer lines develop cracks or the pump doesn’t feed properly. If a three-compartment sink is being used to sanitize, again the sanitizer concentration needs to be checked.

We see more of a problem with chlorine sanitizer being too high because no one is checking the sanitizer concentration (and that is a different violation or issue). They have test strips, but no one is using them. For a heat sanitizing dish machine, they need an irreversible temperature-measuring device, or Thermolabel, that makes sure the surface of that dish (utensil/pan/pot/etc.) is properly sanitized. Just looking at the gauges does not mean the machine is operating properly.

I think everything boils down to education and Active managerial control. Who is watching the employees to make sure they are doing the right thing.

Discover Alto-Hartley’s Commitment to Proper Restaurant Sanitation

Alto-Hartley offers a wide range of tools to help Virginia and Maryland foodservice operators make health inspectors happy. Contact us today to learn more about Thermolabels and how they can increase the effectiveness of your warewashing machines to ensure proper sanitation of dishes.

Also, take a look at this video from the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible host, Chef Robert Irvine, and discover an innovative way to keep your foodservice operation clean.

See an innovative way to sanitize your restaurant in this two-minute video from the Food Network’s Robert Irvine.