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Common Health Code Violations and How To Avoid Them

Common Health Code Violations and How To Avoid Them

Last updated on 8/12/2020

Restaurant inspections from your local health department can occur at any time, without any advanced notice. Along with all the other daily stressors of operating a business, worrying about a possible health inspection can be overwhelming. We’ve made a health code violations list to remind you of some of the most common health violations in restaurants. Use our list as a general guide and make sure to research your local health department rules for the specific health codes for foodservice in your area.

Click any of the restaurant health code violations below to learn more:
  1. Time and Temperature Control
  2. Improper Food Storage
  3. Improper Tool and Utensil Storage
  4. Poor Personal Hygiene
  5. Poor Kitchen Sanitation
  6. Cross-Contamination
  7. Chemical Use and Storage

1. Time and Temperature Control

Time and Temperature Control

Time and temperature control (also called TTC) is one of the most important aspects of food safety. To correctly observe time and temperature control protocols, all foods must be kept at food-safe temperatures for the appropriate length of time. This includes hot foods, cold foods, raw foods, and cooked foods.

Why Time and Temperature Control Is Important

Failing to observe time and temperature control can lead to bacteria growth in your foods and the spread of foodborne illness. Health inspectors will test a variety of foods throughout your kitchen to make sure they are being held safely. This includes foods in hot or cold storage, foods on display in your buffet, and foods that are being reheated.

Common Time and Temperature Mistakes

In addition to checking food temperatures, health inspectors may be on the lookout for these common violations:

  • Frozen meats or fish left out to thaw on counters (must be thawed in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave)
  • Unattended foods or ingredients not in use (any foods taken out of cold storage must be prepped, cooked, or placed back in cold storage)
  • Time-controlled foods with no time/temperature labels (foods that are being served or displayed with no temperature control need to be labeled and monitored)

How To Avoid a TTC Violation

Creating a HACCP plan that reveals potential TTC violations in your kitchen processes is the best way to ensure foods are held safely. Train your staff on the proper use of thermometers, how to label foods, and how to thaw frozen foods.


2. Improper Food Storage

Improper Food Storage

Any foods that are not being prepped or cooked must be stored properly to maintain food safety. The correct food storage procedure encompasses the types of food containers used, the application of date and identification labels, and the order and location of how products are stored on the shelves.

Why Proper Food Storage Is Important

Food storage is important because it prevents spoilage and cross-contamination. Health inspectors will be checking the foods in your cold and dry storage to look for date labels and expiration dates. They’ll also be observing the manner in which foods are stored to make sure you’re using approved containers and placing items in the correct order on your shelves. Refrigerated foods must be stored from top-to-bottom in this order: ready-to-eat food, seafood, raw beef and pork, ground meats and fish, raw and ground poultry.

Common Food Storage Mistakes

Health inspectors will be looking for these common food storage violations:

  • Storing refrigerated foods in the wrong order (raw chicken can never be stored on the shelf above other foods)
  • Storing food containers on the walk-in floor (food boxes and containers should never be stored on the floor)
  • No labels or dates on stored foods (any foods not in their original containers must be labeled)
  • Using food containers that are not food-safe (never use residential food containers for commercial use)

How To Avoid a Food Storage Violation

To avoid a food storage violation, train your staff on the importance of labeling foods and using a first-in-first-out (FIFO) system. Stored foods should be checked on a daily basis and any expired, spoiled, or incorrectly stored foods should be disposed of immediately.


3. Improper Tool and Utensil Storage

Improper Tool and Utensil Storage

Safe storage doesn’t just apply to food, it also applies to your kitchen tools and utensils. Clean, sanitized tools should be stored properly to avoid cross-contamination. Utensils must also be allowed to air dry after being sanitized, which requires being stored separately from other items with enough space for airflow all around the item.

Why Proper Tool and Utensil Storage Is Important

Proper tool and utensil storage is important because if clean utensils come into contact with unclean surfaces, they can pass contaminants onto food. After washing and sanitizing, utensils must also be air dried. Failing to air dry your tools can lead to trapped moisture which encourages the growth of bacteria.

Common Tool and Utensil Storage Mistakes

Be aware of the following common tool and storage mistakes:

  • Stacking or laying clean cutting boards flat for storage (cutting boards should be stored upright)
  • Storing clean chef knives in a drawer or bin (chef knives should be stored in a knife holder)
  • Storing “in use” utensils in a dipper well without running water (dipper wells should have continuously running water to remove food particles)
  • Drying dishes and utensils with a towel (all dishes, tools, and utensils must be air dried)

How To Avoid a Tool and Utensil Storage Violation

Create an organized kitchen with a designated home for every tool and utensil to avoid a possible storage violation. Train your dishwashing staff on the importance of air drying and make sure they know the correct location of all tools and utensils. You can also invest in shelving systems with tool organizers to make storage as easy as possible.


4. Poor Personal Hygiene

Poor Personal Hygiene

Successful personal hygiene is achieved by performing the appropriate behaviors like handwashing and avoiding the bad behaviors like touching your face while working or coughing over food. Hygiene also encompasses staff uniforms and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, face masks, and hairnets.

Why Personal Hygiene Is Important

The good personal hygiene of your staff is critical to maintaining food safety in your restaurant and preventing a health code violation. If your staff has already learned bad habits like not washing their hands correctly or failing to change their gloves at the appropriate time, it’s likely they’ll do this in front of an inspector without even realizing it. Not only that, poor hygiene is one of the biggest contributors to the spread of foodborne illness.

Common Personal Hygiene Mistakes

Health inspectors will be watching your staff closely to observe the following:

  • Not washing hands correctly (employees must use soap, warm water, and wash hands for at least 20 seconds)
  • Washing hands at the wrong sink (handwashing must be performed at a handwashing sink designated by a sign or poster )
  • Open employee beverages in work areas (employee beverages must be covered by a lid and only placed in designated areas)
  • Wearing rings, bracelets, or watches on duty (food handlers may only wear a plain metal ring)
  • No hairnets (food handlers must wear a cap or hairnet when preparing food)
  • Not following correct face mask requirements (check state and local requirements for face mask guidelines in your area)
  • How To Avoid a Personal Hygiene Violation

    Help your staff build good habits by creating a hygiene training program. Perform regular follow-ups with your team and always provide clean hats, face masks, and aprons. Give your handwashing sink stations extra attention and make sure they are set up with soap and paper towels at all times.


    5. Poor Kitchen Sanitation

    Poor Kitchen Sanitation

    The overall cleanliness of your kitchen requires that work surfaces and equipment are wiped down and sanitized regularly. This includes all the visible surfaces and the not-so-obvious surfaces that are hidden from view.

    Why Kitchen Sanitation Is Important

    Kitchen sanitation is important because you cannot safely prepare foods on surfaces and equipment that are unclean. The buildup of grease on your equipment affects the taste of your foods and also presents a fire hazard. If you allow the unseen surfaces inside, beneath, and behind equipment to collect food debris, it attracts pests to your kitchen.

    Common Kitchen Sanitation Mistakes

    Health inspectors know which areas are the most likely to be neglected and will be on the lookout for the following:

    • Mold or slime in the bottom of the ice bin (ice machine bins must be cleaned regularly to prevent mold growth)
    • Unclean soda fountain nozzles (all soda nozzles should be taken apart and cleaned daily to prevent bacteria growth)
    • Food debris and buildup beneath equipment (sweep and clean the areas beneath your equipment daily)
    • Grease buildup on equipment (empty grease traps frequently and use degreaser on equipment)

    How To Avoid a Sanitation Violation

    Avoid a sanitation violation by instituting a restaurant cleaning checklist. Train your staff to observe cleaning protocols on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Make sure to place a special emphasis on the areas that are often neglected, like your ice machine bin.


    6. Cross-Contamination

    Cross Contamination

    Avoiding cross-contamination in your kitchen is one of the most important aspects of food safety. Contamination can occur at any stage of the cooking process, including the handling, storage, and preparation of foods. It can also occur from the misuse of tools and utensils, poor personal hygiene, and neglecting to maintain a safe, sanitary kitchen environment.

    Why Avoiding Cross-Contamination Is Important

    The contamination of foods by pathogens, chemicals, or foreign objects like glass or dirt is a hazard that can cause serious harm to your guests. Preventing the spread of foodborne illness from cross-contamination requires that you adhere to important food safety protocols.

    Common Cross-Contamination Mistakes

    Health inspectors will be paying close attention to any signs of a cross-contamination violation in your kitchen, including these common mistakes:

    • Using the same cutting board or knives to cut chicken and vegetables (any surface that has come into contact with raw chicken should be sanitized)
    • Storing the ice scoop in the ice machine (any object stored inside an ice bin can become a source of contamination)
    • Using glassware to scoop ice (using a glass to scoop ice is a major health hazard because it could cause glass chips to contaminate the ice)
    • Picking up glasses or serving plates by the rim (servers should never touch the surfaces that come into contact with food or beverages)
    • Not storing cleaning towels in sanitizer solution (cleaning towels must be sanitized between uses to prevent cross-contamination)

    How To Avoid a Cross-Contamination Violation

    You can avoid the risk of cross-contamination in your kitchen by encouraging your staff members to obtain food handler’s certification. Safety courses like ServSafe have been highly successful at educating restaurant operators so they can understand the risks of contamination and the necessary prevention.


    7. Chemical Use and Storage

    Chemical Use and Storage

    Commercial kitchens require the use of powerful chemicals to clean and sanitize surfaces and equipment. Ensuring that these chemicals are used correctly and stored safely away from foods is all a part of proper chemical use.

    Why Chemical Use and Storage Is Important

    Health inspectors catch a lot of operators off guard with chemical storage violations. It’s very easy for a staff member to pick up a spray bottle of cleaning solution and accidentally set it down next to a food pan, even if it’s just for a moment. If the health inspector observes any cleaning chemicals placed near food, it will result in a violation. You can also expect the inspector to test your cleaning and sanitizing solutions to make sure they are at the right concentration.

    Common Chemical Use and Storage Mistakes

    • Storing cleaning chemicals near food (do not store chemicals on shelves above food or anywhere near food in your kitchen)
    • Storing toxic chemicals in unlabeled bottles (all spray bottles and containers must be labeled to identify the chemicals inside)
    • Not using the correct concentration of sanitizer (your sanitizing solutions must contain the correct strength and concentration to kill germs)

    How To Avoid a Chemical Use and Storage Violation

    You can avoid a chemical storage violation by creating designated locations for the storage of your cleaning supplies. Use sanitizer testing strips to make sure all of your sanitizing solutions contain the right concentration of chemicals.


The best way to avoid a health code violation on the day the health inspector shows up is to have an established food safety plan in place. Keep your staff trained, provide opportunities for their education, and perform regular walk-throughs to ensure safety procedures are being followed.

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