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Food Service Inspections Help Protect the Public from Foodborne Illnesses

Improper food handling practices can lead to foodborne illnesses that affect many people and, regrettably, may even result in death. Preventing or minimizing foodborne-related illnesses is the reason local county health departments inspect establishments serving food. Regular unannounced inspections help make sure restaurants and other food service outlets are following safe food handling procedures.

The inspection and regulation of restaurants and other food service facilities in Alabama is the responsibility of the Alabama Department of Public Health environmental staff at the county health departments and the Division of Food, Milk, and Lodging of the Bureau of Environmental Services at the state level.

Environmental health inspectors check to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect food from contamination by food handlers, cross-contamination, and contamination from other sources in the establishment. Some examples include ensuring employees regularly wash their hands in a sink equipped with soap, hot water, and paper towels; utensils and surfaces that contact raw meat are not used to prepare ready-to-eat foods; and rodents and other pests are not present.

State law requires any facility selling food to have a current food service permit that is issued by the local county health department. Food service establishments are generally required to be inspected at least three times per year, depending on the type of food being prepared and the steps involved in the preparation. The average convenience store may be inspected once or twice per year, again depending on the type of food sold there.

Inspection reports and permits must be posted in conspicuous view within the establishment. The exact violations are indicated on the report. The overall inspection score determines the reinspection schedule and the use of enforcement actions:

  • A score of 85 to 100: Establishments are considered to be in satisfactory compliance and are inspected on routine schedule.
  • A score of 70 to 84: Establishments require a follow-up inspection within 60 days.
  • A score of 60 to 69: Establishments require follow-up and reinspection within 48 hours.
  • A score below 60: Establishments are closed immediately and until problems are corrected.

Some establishments must be closed at once as a result of the inspection. In recent months, food service establishments in Alabama have been ordered to close for a variety of reasons that include the following: lack of water, lack of hot water, inadequate refrigeration, sewage backups, presence of rodents, presence of insects, overhead leaks, extensive remodeling, and fire.

Categories of establishments inspected include camps, catering, child care, convenience stores, grocery stores, institutional food service, mobile food service, nursing homes, public and private school lunchrooms, restaurants, seasonal. To find a permitted establishment’s score in Alabama, enter a name, city, or select a county or establishment type from the drop down lists at Food Scores.

Thomas M. Miller, M.D.
State Health Officer

(May 2017) 

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