50 Common Restaurant Food Safety Violations and Tips to Avoid Them: Part 1

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Article contributed by Dhruv Kishore Bole

There are over a million restaurants across the country and they all are inspected by food inspectors to ensure that food served to the public is safe. The majority of food poisoning cases are linked to restaurants because food safety violations that cause food poisoning, occur frequently in restaurants.

Food inspectors are front-line public servants who are on the lookout for restaurants that sell unsafe food. They conduct random and unannounced inspections to check whether employees follow safe food handling practices and that the restaurant has adequate facilities.

In this three-part article series, we will look at the 50 most common food safety violations discovered during restaurant inspections and how restaurant operators can avoid them. Knowing about the food safety violations will not only help to reduce food safety risks, but will also make it easier to pass restaurant inspections. So, sit tight and read the rest of the article.


Violation 1: Exteriors in unsanitary condition

Unhygienic conditions around the restaurant attract pests, allowing them to congregate around the building. Keep the entrance of the restaurant in good working order and the surrounding area clean, not only to make an excellent first impression but also to prevent pests from getting inside the restaurant building. Remove debris, bushes and stagnant water from the surrounding area since these are places where pests hide and breed before making their way to the restaurant. Plant trees at least eight to fifteen feet away from the building and shrubs at least three feet away. Inspect exteriors of the building regularly to check if any restoration or structural improvements are required. Schedule daily cleaning of the restaurant’s entrance and surrounding areas and keep an eye on daily cleaning activities to ensure that environment remains clean and pest-free.

Violation 2: Visibly dirty kitchen equipment

During inspections, equipment such as espresso machines, ice machines, grillers and ovens are often found dirty. Unhygienic equipment are one of the common causes of food contamination. To keep equipment sanitary and prevent cross-contamination of food, it is important to clean and sanitize equipment between uses. For instance, clean espresso machine nozzles after each shift and wipe down the steam wand after each use to avoid clogging and buildup of bacteria in and around the steam wand. Use espresso machine cleaning kits once a month and descale machine every two or three months. Ice machine is another potential source of contamination. Maintain a clean ice machine that is free of mineral deposits, slime, rust buildup and pests.  Soda guns have also been shown to harbor disease-causing pathogens.

It is essential to clean soda guns on a regular basis to keep them free of syrup and bio-slime buildup. Keep grillers and ovens clean and make sure crumb trays in pizza ovens are free of debris and food spills. Maintain separate buckets for cleaning, rinsing and sanitizing and replace cleaning and sanitizing solution every two hours at the very least or as needed to ensure adequate cleaning and sanitation. Remember to rinse the surface with clean water or wipe it down with a wet towel before sanitizing.

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Violation 3: Poorly maintained walk-in freezers

Restaurant walk-in refrigerators are frequently found in poor working order. This is one of the most common reasons why restaurants fail health inspections. Everything from incorrect temperature to grease buildup on fans, overhead water leaks and mold growth poses a severe threat to food safety.  Make sure walk-in refrigeration units are operating at recommended temperature and there is no variance in the ambient temperature of the walk-in freezer and the temperature of the food stored. Keep a probing thermometer in the freezer to check whether the recommended temperature is maintained.  It is essential to see how well the refrigerator door gaskets are holding up.  Worn-out gaskets prevent the door from closing properly, affecting the refrigerator’s ability to maintain temperature. Grease buildup on the exhaust fan and water dripping from fan units also present food contamination risk. Mold growth in walk-in freezers is a typical problem because of high moisture levels. It is essential to get rid of mold before it contaminates the food and affects the health of the staff. Deep clean the walk-in freezer regularly and if the infestation is severe, hire a mold remediation company. Make sure the staff does walk-in freezer inspections every night to ensure everything is in working order. Work out an annual maintenance contract (AMC) with the refrigeration vendor to repair and maintain the unit.

Violation 4: Using dirty rags to clean equipment and food preparation surfaces

Cleaning cooking equipment and food preparation surfaces such as work tables with dirty rags is also a violation since pathogens can spread one surface to another and contaminate food. Use rags that are clean and washed daily and replace them on a regular basis. Separate cloths should be used for cleaning, rinsing and applying sanitizer.

Violation 5: Food not kept at recommended temperature in buffets

When serving food at a buffet, keep hot cooked food hot and cold food cold, at recommended minimum temperature. Keeping food at the appropriate temperature prevents bacteria from growing and causing food poisoning. Regularly inspect hot holding equipment such as chafing dishes and soup tureens to ensure that it can hold hot cooked food at a safe minimum temperature. When serving cold food at a buffet, place food on top of an ice-filled container and replenish the ice as needed.

Violation 6: No supply of potable water in food preparation area

Restaurants are often accused of using non-potable water to prepare, wash and cook food. Ensure that there is an adequate supply of potable water in the kitchen for cooking and cleaning. Using potable water not only improves the flavor of the food but also prevents food from contamination, if the quality of the local water supply is a concern.

Violation 7: Grease and moisture build up on walls, floors and distribution piping

In moist environments like kitchen, accumulation of grease and moisture on walls, floors and distribution pipes is a regular occurrence. Such accumulation causes mold growth, which can lead to food contamination. Grease buildup on floors can also lead to workplace accidents such as slips and falls. Examine kitchen ventilation system to check if poor ventilation is causing such accumulation and seek the help of a licensed ventilation engineer to resolve the issue. Clean all kitchen and dining areas after each day’s closing and schedule deep cleaning activities at regular intervals under the supervision of the Chef in charge or kitchen supervisor.  The accumulation of grease on ducts is a fire hazard to the restaurant. To clear the buildup, hire an outsourced vendor to clean the hood and ducts at least once every 3-4 months.

Violation 8: Cracks or crevices on walls and floors

Cracks, crevices or broken tiles on walls and floors are pest harborage points. Seal all cracks, gaps and holes with weather foam or clear caulk to prevent pest entry. If there are significant damages on walls and floors, seek the help of specialists. Health inspectors catch many food service employees off guard with DIY (Do It Yourself) repairs using cardboard and newspapers. The use of cardboard and newspapers is a fire hazard and a major no-no in food service environments.

Violation 9: Paint peeling off the kitchen walls

Peeling wall paint is an obvious food safety risk. Food contamination may occur if peeling paint falls into the food. To fix this, remove the peeling areas and apply fresh coats of primer and paint.

Violation 10: Pooling of water on floors and intersections

Standing water on floors harbor pathogens and release bioaerosols into the air that create an unsanitary environment leading to food contamination. To prevent water from collecting on floors, slope the floor towards the drain. Accumulation of food waste and water in floor and drainage intersections is another typical violation reported in restaurant kitchens. It is important to cove all floor and drain intersections to prevent food debris from collecting as this could attract pests.

Violation 11: Presence of pests in the kitchen and dining areas

Roughly twenty percent of the total restaurant inspection score is dedicated to the pest control component. Pests are a risk to food safety and when it comes to pest control, prevention is always better than cure.  Effective pest control in food service establishments is a legal necessity in food safety regulations. The most effective way to prevent infestation is to keep the environment clean and hygienic, seal all possible points of entry and remove sources of food, water and shelter that pest need to survive. Keep doors at the rear exit closed when not in use because rodents can get in through the back entrance. Look for signs of infestation and pest damage like droppings, nesting, strange smells and structural damages. Schedule regular exterminator visit to identify and eliminate the conditions that are causing pest problems and develop a treatment plan to prevent pests from returning.

Violation 12: Overflowing trash cans

In restaurants, overflowing trash cans and collection of waste around dumpsters are a common sight. Such an environment attracts pests, contaminates the air and causes respiratory diseases. Always use single-use garbage liner for garbage bins and empty garbage cans in the kitchen and dining areas regularly, such as after each meal or as needed.  When planning for waste bins, it is important to consider the total number of waste generation sources (e.g., kitchens, dining rooms and food storage areas), the estimated waste volume and the kind of waste generated. If waste containers are not planned properly, it may lead to waste bins getting overfilled, creating an unhygienic environment, or they may require frequent emptying, exposing employees to waste hazards (For instance- bioaerosols). Also, make sure dumpster cleaning and inspecting for damages is a part of the regular cleaning and maintenance schedule.

Violation 13: Soiled dishes left overnight

Leaving dirty dishes in the sink is an open invitation to pests. Cockroaches, flies, and ants are attracted to leftover food on dishes. In order to keep pests away, ensure that soiled dishes are washed as soon as possible and that the sink is free of soiled dishes especially before leaving for the night.

Violation 14: Employees not wearing personal protective equipment

Do not permit employees to work in food preparation areas unless they wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hair coverings, aprons, uniform, safety shoes and disposable gloves. When working in a kitchen, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) helps to avoid not just the spread of pathogens to food, but also injury from burns, falls and cuts.

Violation 15: Employees eating and drinking in the kitchen and dining areas

Employees are not allowed to eat in food preparation, storage and dining areas because body fluids like sneeze and saliva can contaminate food and cause food-borne illness. To protect the safety of food, employees must eat outside of the food preparation, storage and service areas and personal food and drinks must be kept on a separate dedicated shelf away from these areas. 


We hope you enjoyed the first installment of our three-part series on common food safety violations and how to avoid them. Parts two and three, which will be released in August and September, will cover a few more common food safety violations and provide tips to prevent them. Meanwhile, check to see if any of these violations exist in your restaurant and implement the strategies discussed in the article to correct them. That way, you’ll be able to achieve a 5-star hygiene rating and be ready for inspections at all times.


Dhruv Kishore BoleDhruv Kishore Bole is a hospitality and food safety specialist with qualifications in hotel management, food safety and quality management system. He has extensive experience spanning over twelve years in operational and training roles. His expertise centers on hospitality operation, food and beverage services  and food safety. He has attended numerous workshops and conferences on customer service, leadership and food safety and quality and is certified by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in food safety competencies. He is currently offering services in the capacity of Faculty, Food & Beverage service at State Institute of Hotel Management, Siddhpur, India. He is an empanelled trainer with Hero Mindmine and IL&FS Skills. He is a member of Quality Council of India and an instructor and proctor with ServSafe for India region.

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