Would Your School Kitchens Pass or Fail?

This article was originally published in NYSIR News Summer 2010

The health inspector (or county sanitarian) visits school district kitchens periodically to make sure institutional kitchen regulations are being enforced.

The district food service manager should always be on site when the inspector is in the food service area to answer any questions that arise.  Board of Health inspectors will identify themselves and generally bring their own disposable gloves and thermometers. Often, inspectors arrive unannounced, at a busy time, to see the kitchen in full operation and the staff in action. If the inspector finds a critical violation, health department regulations may require that the inspector remains on premise until the violation is resolved. A critical violation is defined as an item that would lead to food borne illness that must receive immediate remediation.

During the inspection a large number of issues are reviewed, including such things as verification of the cleanliness of grease traps; temperature checks of steam tables, dish washing machines and sinks; backflow prevention measures in the kitchen, ice and soda, juice or water machines;, and constant use of a food thermometer. The health inspector will also take note of kitchen staff safety practices.

Storage Areas

Inspections of storage areas include making sure that all food containers are labeled and covered, that food is not stored in reused containers or those not designed for food, and that food is kept at least six inches above the floor. Food stock item expiration dates are checked and cans are examined to make sure that any that appear dented, swollen, bulging or misshapen are removed. If food is stored near any cleansers or cleaning supplies a violation will be noted.


Food must be stored at between 35 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit in refrigerators, and at 0 degrees Fahrenheit in freezers. The inspector will verify the temperature in these units and will check for accuracy the thermometer that is required in every refrigerator and freezer.

As in pantries, food in refrigerators and freezers is inspected for covered, labeled containers, and for the proper placement of food. For example, raw chicken would not be stored above a prepared salad since any drips or leaks could cause contamination.

Light bulbs are inspected to make sure they have shatterproof covers to prevent broken glass contamination. Additionally, inside latches on walk-in refrigerator/freezer units are tested to ensure that employees can get out if they are accidentally shut inside.

It is important to note that health department regulations vary by county and state. This article may not address all potential health department violations.