Food Establishment Inspection FAQ

1. Who needs to have a Health Department Permit to Operate a Food Establishment?
A food establishment is an operation that stores, prepares, serves or otherwise provides food for consumption, and provides such food directly to a member of the public for consumption (Fairfax County Code, Chapter 43.1). If your business meets the above definition you will need a Permit to Operate.

2. What do I need to do to open a new restaurant in Fairfax County, Fairfax City or the City of Falls Church?
Contact the Health Department at 703-246-2444. Plans must be approved and an inspection conducted before a Permit to Operate will be issued. More specific instructions are available on the Health Department's permits page.

3. Is the Permit to Operate transferable to a new owner after a change of ownership at a restaurant?
The Permit to Operate is not transferable. An inspection must be conducted before the settlement on the change of ownership. More information is available on the permits web page.

4. What type of equipment may be used in the kitchen of a licensed food establishment?
Home-use equipment is not permitted for use in a restaurant kitchen. Food equipment in a food establishment shall be certified or classified by an ANSI accredited certification program, an equivalent certification program, or approved by the Regulatory Authority before installation and/or use. NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) certification is the most prevalent type of certification for commercial restaurant equipment.

5. What is a Certified Food Manager (CFM)?
A CFM is someone who has successfully passed an approved written examination and been issued a Northern Virginia Food Manager Certificate. The exam covers the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to operate a safe and sanitary food establishment. Information about becoming a certified food manger can be obtained by contacting:

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6. What are the responsibilities of the Certified Food Manager?
The Certified Food Manager (CFM) provides supervision of the safe handling of food during preparation, service and cleanup. There must be a CFM on the premises at all times of food preparation, service and cleanup. For this reason, an establishment must have enough CFMs on staff to cover all hours of food preparation, service and cleanup.

7. What is the Consumer Advisory?
The Consumer Advisory is a statement placed on menus to advise the consumer that a food may be served raw or undercooked and consuming that raw or undercooked food may lead to foodborne illness. An example of a Consumer Advisory is: Eggs may be cooked to order. Consuming raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness. There is more information at the Training Materials page .

8. Are all food handlers required to wear gloves?
The Fairfax County Food Code does not allow the handling of ready-to-eat foods with bare hands. Ready-to-eat foods are generally those that will not be cooked before being served or ready-to-eat foods may be leftovers, for example. Bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods is prohibited. Gloves, tongs or tissue paper must be used when handling ready-to-eat foods. It is not mandatory that gloves be worn when handling raw foods which will later be cooked thoroughly. Hands must be washed frequently when working with raw, to-be-cooked, foods.

9. When must I change gloves?
Gloves must be changed whenever the task changes or if the gloves become soiled or damaged. When gloves are changed, hands must be washed with soap and water. While changing gloves there is a risk of contaminating a clean hand which will then contaminate a clean glove. Washing hands properly when changing gloves minimizes the chance of contaminating the new gloves.

10. How do I calibrate my food thermometer?
One method to calibrate a food thermometer is to use ice water. Many food thermometers have a calibration nut under the dial that can be adjusted. Check the package for instructions. To use the ice water method, fill a large glass with finely crushed ice. Add clean tap water to the top of the ice and stir well. Immerse the food thermometer stem a minimum of 2 inches into the mixture, touching neither the sides nor the bottom of the glass. Wait a minimum of 30 seconds before adjusting. Without removing the stem from the ice, hold the adjusting nut under the head of the thermometer with a suitable tool and turn the head so the pointer reads 32 degree F.

11. Is a Health Department permit required for a youth athletic concession stand at a local high school?
Effective July 1, 2013, a Health Department Permit to Operate will no longer be required to serve food from a youth athletic concession stand. In the past, the Health Department has conducted food safety workshops for volunteers who work at the concession stands. It is no longer required that volunteers attend the food safety workshops.

In the interest of food safety at your concession stand, if your group is interested in having a food safety workshop for volunteers, you may contact the Health Department directly at 703-246-2444 to make arrangements. Remember to Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill! Food safety brochures are available upon request from the Health Department and Cooking for Groups: A Volunteer's Guide to Food Safety is a good resource available from the USDA. If you have any questions, please contact the Health Department.

12. Does a restaurant's Permit to Operate allow it to sell food at a temporary event such as a carnival?
A restaurant which has a Permit to Operate in Fairfax County may use that permit to operate at a temporary event without filing a Temporary Permit application.

13. What must an organization do to hold a temporary public event at which food will be sold to the public?
If prepared foods will be sold to the general public, a Temporary Food Permit must be issued to the food vendors. Applications for a permit must be received at least 10 days prior to the event. More information and application forms may be found on the Food Safety home page under Temporary Events.

14. How should foods be stored in a refrigerator?
Foods should be stored in a refrigerator in a manner to prevent cross-contamination. Cross-contamination refers to the transfer of a pathogen from one raw food to another food. For this reason, raw meats, poultry, pork and seafood must be stored in a certain order in the refrigerator. We cook to kill bacteria on our food. Because other foods may be cooked to a lower temperature than chicken, chicken must always be stored on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator to prevent drippings from getting on other foods. Leftovers should be on the top shelf, with raw fruits and vegetables. Pork and seafood should be placed below the leftovers and beef and ground beef should be below the pork, but above the poultry. See a chart showing the storage layout in a typical refrigerator at the Training Materials page. At home, there may not be enough shelves to completely separate the foods. In that case, place the raw meats, poultry or seafood on a plate or in a container to prevent drippings from getting on other foods.

15. What should I do with my food after a power outage?
When in doubt throw it out! For more information go to the Health Department's Food Safety In Emergencies page for more information.

16. What type of inspection visits does the Health Department conduct at food establishments?
Essentially, six types of inspections may be performed: 1) routine, 2) follow-up, 3) complaint investigation, 4) risk factor assessment, 5) training, or 6) pre-opening. For a detailed explanation of food establishment inspections go to the Health Department's establishment inspections page.

17. How often are food service establishments inspected?
Food inspections are unannounced. Food establishments are inspected using a risk-based inspection system. Based on the complexity of the food preparation and the history of compliance, an establishment may be routinely inspected from one to three times per 12 month period. Other inspections may be conducted as needed.

18. Are the inspections announced (scheduled)?
No. Virtually all inspections (except for pre-opening inspections and training) are conducted on an unannounced basis.

19. What is a "routine" inspection?
This is a comprehensive, unannounced inspection during which the Environmental Health Specialist will evaluate foodborne illness risk factors and good retail practices to determine compliance with regulations.

20. What is a "follow up" inspection?
An inspection conducted for the specific purpose of re-inspecting items that were not in compliance at the time of the routine, critical procedures, or complaint inspection.

21. What is a "complaint" inspection?
An inspection conducted in response to a complaint received by the Health Department. The specifics of the complaint will be evaluated and discussed with the person in charge. Complaints may be reported to the Health Department at 703-246-2444 during business hours, 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

22. What is a "risk factor assessment" inspection?
This is a specialized, unannounced inspection during which the EHS will evaluate foodborne illness risk factors to determine compliance with critical sections of the regulations.

23. What is a "training" inspection?
A scheduled inspection during which the EHS provides formal food safety training to the foodservice employees. Training inspections can be initiated by the Health Department or at the request of the foodservice operator.

24. What is a "pre-opening" inspection?
A scheduled inspection conducted to approve the construction of a new or remodeled establishment (or installation of new equipment) or to evaluate an establishment prior to a change of ownership at the establishment.

25. What is a critical violation?
A "critical item" means a provision of the Code, that, if in non-compliance, is more likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination, illness, or environmental health hazard.

26. What is a "foodborne illness" inspection?
An inspection conducted in response to a report of a possible foodborne illness. A risk factor assessment inspection is always conducted in conjunction with a foodborne illness investigation.

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