If you have dreams of owning your own restaurant to share your favorite recipes and culinary skills with the community, your eatery will need to pass a health inspection before opening. You must purchase up-to-date equipment and make sure the facility is clean, safe and meets local health codes. The following guide can help you prepare for a pre-opening health department inspection and begin creating a checklist of tasks.

Food Handling

You will not be able to prepare food without proper food handling equipment. This includes standard items such as

  • Cutting boards
  • Knives and cleavers
  • Film and foil dispensers
  • Oven mitts
  • Bowls
  • Pots, pans and boilers
  • Spoons, tongs and ladles
  • Thermometers

A health inspector will scrutinize the condition, quality and cleanliness of your food handling equipment.

Even after you open for business, health inspectors may have the legal right to show up at any time and scrutinize the restaurant. Consequently, you need to make sure that your food handling equipment is always clean and stored in the correct place.

An example of a common food handling hazard includes failing to sanitize a cutting board when switching between raw meat and cooked food. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 29 percent of restaurant managers indicated that they practiced inadequate chicken handling.

Safety Equipment and Fire Prevention

Approximately 5,900 restaurant fires occur annually according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Health and fire codes mandate that you equip your restaurant with safety features such as a sprinkler system, fire extinguishers, and fire detectors.

Many restaurant supply stores will carry these items as well as wall brackets and extinguisher cabinets.

You must also make sure that all of the electrical equipment in your restaurant has proper wiring and grounding. Inspectors can also cite you for not labeling electrical devices such as breaker switches and outlets properly.

Storage Areas

The key avoiding citations for storage areas is cleanliness and space. Your employees and cleaning crew need to make sure that aisles are always clear with proper clearance for moving safely in between shelves and cabinets. Surfaces and floors should also be free of debris. All of your shelving should be sturdy and in good condition.

Refrigerated and cold storage areas must always be set at the correct temperature to keep food from spoiling. You can also be cited for storing food at an incorrect temperature, a violation that can occur if the thermometers in your refrigerators and cooling areas fail.

Seating and Exterior Areas

It is a no-brainer that you want the seating area and exterior spaces to be in good condition. You will not be able to attract customers if your dining area looks shoddy and dirty.

Adequate lighting will also make a huge difference between a restaurant that looks dingy and one that looks bright and inviting. In addition, your parking lot and walkways should be free of obstructions and tripping hazards.


Some signage, such as posters to denote the location of fire extinguishers and exits are required by law.

A fully stocked restaurant supply store should have all of the signs you need to pass an inspection including ones for restrooms that tell your employees to wash their hands before returning to work. Other types of signs you may want to add in your restaurant include:

  • No smoking
  • Bathroom signs that designate gender
  • Proper attire signs so customers do not enter shoeless and shirtless
  • Message boards to advertise daily specials and events

As soon as you make up your mind that you want to open a restaurant, you should contact your local health department to find out if you can get a copy of an inspection list and sample grading report. Some cities provide these documents online.

Study the list to make sure you are prepared for your first health inspector visit. You want to make sure that you open your restaurant on time and do not fail the inspection because of something you overlooked.