What’s one of the most nerve-wracking, potentially catastrophic experiences in a food and beverage establishments’ business operations? That’s right - a surprise inspection by the authorities.
Self-auditing is a great way to make sure you are ALWAYS ready for a surprise inspection - and never get caught unprepared. A lot of really terrible results can happen due to an inspection that goes awry - and it only takes ONE time to potentially cost you your reputation, and your business!
Types of Inspections
The Health Department inspections are what we generally think of when we think of surprise inspections. You probably already know health inspectors are allowed to drop by with no notice. They come by on a routine basis (different for each state or local authority), or as a result of a consumer complaint (other reasons may generate an inspection as well). Major areas of inspection are Contamination, Temperature Control, General Cleanliness, Health (of employees), and Hygiene. On points requiring improvement you’ll get a follow-up visit.
Your establishment can actually be immediately shut down by a health inspector. Even if you “pass”, you might be given a less-than-desirable rating. Businesses that have mediocre or poor ratings (ratings are available to the public) suffer enormous repercussions now because word spreads like wildfire on social media. And just like a wildfire, it’s terribly costly to put out. It could ruin your customer base and even shut you down.
Undercover Law Enforcement
This type of undercover inspection is a little less transparent (obviously, since it’s undercover). Not only will it be a surprise like the health department, but you probably won’t know it’s happening when it goes down! They’re stings conducted by local law enforcement under the aegis of your state’s alcohol regulatory body. They’re mainly looking for checking ID, sales or service to underage customers, and over-serving intoxicated guests. Employees and licensees can be issued a summons to appear in court (or even arrested!), and face large fines and other penalties. Your liquor license could be suspended or even revoked!
How Do I Self-Audit?
- Create an Internal Audit Checklist - This needs to be drawn from your health department’s criteria (because that’s what you’re scored on, after all). Many agencies now post criteria and even a sample inspection checklist online. Food Safety Magazine has a nice online resource that lists all state and county health department websites.
- Create an Auditing Schedule - This is AS important as the checklist itself. Establish a regular frequency of audits - weekly would be great. If you’ve got multiple locations, you can designate someone on-site to do it, or just make sure less frequent audits are more thorough.
- Conduct Regular Audits - Follow through and actually conduct the audits. It’s the only way to truly make sure you’re paying attention. For any sub-par issues, identify a solution as the follow-through action item. Don’t slack - that’s how you’ll get caught unaware.
- Training - Are your employees trained and/or certified in their job duties? Is training mandatory, and by which regulatory agency? Are all employees up-to-date with re-training/recertification requirements? If not, who’s out of compliance or nearing their deadline for renewal?
- Complaints/Suggestions - How do you receive complaints and suggestions? However you do it, read them all periodically and put them in a spreadsheet, categorized into areas of improvement. Make sure there is a “solution” or “improvement” action item on every item.
- Operating Procedures - Especially important in alcohol sales and service, but also relevant to food safety and customer service. Create and distribute a handbook/guide that employees must sign-off on to acknowledge training and familiarity in all areas.
- Mystery Shoppers - This is a great way to test your business covertly. You can ask a friend to do it, or hire a company who will handle it for you and provide written feedback.
- RVP Membership - Become a member of your state’s Responsible Vendor Program, an industry-regulatory “club” that provides major incentives for things like training your employees and running a safe establishment.
Self-auditing will allow you to get out in front of the important safety issues in food and beverage sales and service. Inspections can make us or break us - literally. Don’t get caught with violations, poor ratings, or illegal operations in your business because you weren’t monitoring properly. Auditing your own business is a fantastic risk management tactic and a perfect tool to help your business thrive. Don’t Panic! Prepare.
Click here to download our eBook “Challenges & Opportunities: Regulatory Compliance Training in the Food & Beverage Industry” to deepen your knowledge about the array of risks, challenges, and consequences - and let us help you with training, tools, and an action plan to mitigate any danger to your business!