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Which Agency Enforces Food Safety in a Restaurant or Food Service Operation?

In the United States, there are national, provincial and city laws that apply to restaurants and food service operations, but local health departments are usually the enforcement arm of food safety within their territory. These organizations usually conduct pre – opening inspections, regularly monitor restaurant conditions and investigate customer complaints and charges of food poisoning.

States and territories have separate departments of health and of agriculture. In addition, many counties and cities have parallel agencies.

In total, more than 3,000 state and local agencies have food safety responsibilities for retail food establishments. In many jurisdictions, there is a divide between agriculture and health department authority that mirrors, in many respects, the split in federal food safety jurisdictions.

In most state and local jurisdictions, for instance, the health department has authority over restaurants, but the agriculture department has authority over supermarkets. Therefore, a restaurant in a supermarket might be under agriculture department authority, while a stand – alone restaurant in the same chain will fall under the authority of the health department.

Note that just like FDA and USDA, health and agriculture departments in the same jurisdiction are more or less governed by different statutes, use different methods and standards, and have different cultures that affect their regulatory stance.

States are tasked with the inspection of meat and poultry sold in the state where they are produced, but FSIS monitors the process. The 1967 Wholesome Meat Act and the 1968 Wholesome Poultry Products Act require state inspection programs to be ‘’at least equal to” the federal inspection programs.

Have it in mind that if a state decides to end its inspection programs or cannot maintain the “at least equal to” standard, FSIS is expected to assume responsibility for inspection. In a few states, state employees carry out inspections in some federal plants under federal – state cooperative inspection agreements.

But also note that FDA’s Food Code provides scientific standards and guidelines that states and localities may adopt for food safety in restaurants and institutional food settings. This code tends to include temperature standards for cooking, cooling, refrigerating, reheating, and holding food.

Each state or locality may even choose to adopt any or all of the code in its laws or regulations. Although there appears to be some recent progress toward more widespread adoption of this model code, still there is much variation among jurisdictions in standards currently being applied to restaurants and other food establishments.

Food Safety Guidelines for Restaurants in the United States

Food safety simply means the proper practice of preparing and storing food in order to avoid food borne illness. Food safety guidelines are very important in a Restaurant or Food Service Operation to ensure the health of customers, maximize the longevity of food products, and develop proper hazard management protocols. Here are restaurant food safety tips to keep your customers safe.

  1. Wash Hands Often

Always remember that for optimal food safety, it is imperative that all employees wash hands before preparing and handling food and when shifting between tasks. Wash thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

  1. Always Sanitize Surfaces

Sanitizing and cleaning all surfaces, including prep areas, cutting boards, equipment, storage areas, trash cans, and floor drains, should be a crucial aspect of your food safety regimen.

Have it in mind that this process removes food residue, dirt, and invisible germs from surfaces that may come in contact with food. You are always expected to clean and sanitize surfaces regularly to avoid pests from inhabiting them. Pests can spread harmful diseases, such as Salmonella and Listeria, to the food in your kitchen.

Establish and implement sanitation procedures for employees to follow on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Procedures to consider include:

  • Scraping and clearing the area of debris or leftover food.
  • Cleaning the surface with hot soapy water.
  • To avoid chemical contamination, rinse the surface with water and a clean cloth.
  • Clean the area with a sanitizing wipe or other professional sanitizer.
  • Allow the area to air dry.

Coupled with sanitizing products, also note that heat can be used on things like flatware to effectively sanitize. However, it is advisable you soak the items you are sanitizing in water that is at least 171 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 30 seconds. Or, you can run items through a high – temperature dishwasher, as long as they are dishwasher safe.

  1. Prepare and Store Foods at Safe Temperatures

Always ensure to prepare raw meat, ground meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood at the correct temperature to avoid food poisoning. Food safety involves the equipment for cooling, cooking and holding food at the right temperatures and the processes of quickly cooling food to prevent bacterial growth and using the FIFO method, “first – in, first – out.”

  1. Keep Food Out of the “Danger Zone”

Note that danger zone simply refers to temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. For time –  and temperature – sensitive foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy, it is imperative that you keep internal temperatures either above or below the danger zone.

In the United States, cold foods are expected to be stored or held at below 41 degrees, while hot foods need to be held 140 degrees or above. Generally, these temperature sensitive foods should not stay in the danger zone for more than 2 hours. During this time, dangerous bacteria can grow and spread rapidly.

  1. Pay Attention to Food Recalls

Also, to avoid a foodborne illness outbreak, always be aware of any food recalls related to your food inventory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) frequently publish lists with recalls, so it is necessary to regularly check these alerts.

  1. Wash Fruits and Vegetables

All fruit and vegetables are expected to be thoroughly washed to remove any bacteria and dirt that may be on the produce. However, the only exception is produce that is packaged and labelled as pre-washed. Use clean, cold water, and opt for a vegetable brush when necessary.

  1. Avoid Cross Contamination

Cross – contamination tends to happen when harmful bacteria, allergens, or other microorganisms transfer from one object to another unintentionally.

Though often invisible to the human eye, the results of this process can be very dangerous or deadly to unsuspecting consumers. Also, aside from hand – washing, it is also imperative to use separate products when dealing with different types of food products.

Use different cutting boards and separate receptacles for raw meats, vegetables, and produce, and cooked foods. Note that you can choose a colour – coded system to help your staff keep track. Using the proper procedures to avoid cross contamination will also help you avoid allergic reactions.


Food safety and restaurant sanitation are crucial ongoing processes for every restaurant. Irrespective of your duration in business or how well your restaurant is rated, you are only as good as the last meal you served. That is why it is so pertinent to implement strong safety measures and monitor them continuously.

Keep your restaurant’s reputation intact and reduce the spread of food borne illnesses by practicing good food safety habits. Implementing programs that ensure employees both prevent and react appropriately to food safety issues should be an important part of your food service establishment.