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Food Service Inspection Program - Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions:

What does the Washtenaw County Environmental Health Division inspect?

The Washtenaw County Environmental Health Division inspects food service establishments. Examples include:

  • Restaurants
  • Bars
  • Night Clubs
  • School Cafeterias
  • Worksite Cafeterias
  • Coffee Shops
  • Donut/Bagel Shops
  • Ice Cream Shops
  • Concessions
  • Rental Halls
  • Catering Kitchens
  • Private organizations serving the public

Establishments can be fixed or mobile, and long-term or temporary.

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How often is a food service establishment inspected?

According to Michigan law, food service establishments are inspected as follows:

  • NORMAL Inspection Frequency: Establishments that operate year-round shall be inspected once every six (6) months.
  • SEASONAL Inspection Frequency: Establishments that operate nine (9) or fewer months each year shall be inspected once per season of operation.

The inspections described above are ROUTINE inspections. One or more FOLLOW-UP inspections may take place shortly after a routine inspection to verify that violations have been corrected. No matter the inspection frequency, all routine inspections are unannounced. The dates of follow-up inspections, however, may be told to the operator of the establishment.

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What standard does Washtenaw County Environmental Health Division use when making an inspection?

The standards for all food establishments in Michigan are set by the Michigan Food Law, Act 92 of 2000. Food establishments shall comply with this law, which was updated October 1, 2012.

The Michigan Food Law adopted the Michigan Modified Food Code as the sanitation standard for all Michigan food establishments, effective October 1, 2012.

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What kinds of violations are there?

After October 1, 2012: 

Violations are categorized as Priority (P), Priority Foundation (Pf) or Core.

  • Priority violations are those items that most directly eliminate or reduce a hazard associated with foodborne illness.  Priority violations include violations that were previously called Critical Violations.  Examples include improper food temperatures and lack of hand washing.
  • Priority Foundation violations are those items that help keep Priority violations in compliance and support (i.e. provide the foundation for) Priority items.  Examples include not having a metal stem thermometer, not having sanitizer test strips and not having soap or paper towel at a hand sink.  The Priority Foundation category is made up of violations that were previously called Critical and Non-Critical Violations. 
  • Core violations are those items that are related to general sanitation and facility maintenance.  Most Core violations were previously called Non-Critical violations.  Examples include dirty floors and improper facility lighting.

Priority and Priority Foundation violations must be corrected immediately at the time of inspection or within 10 days, similar to how Critical violations were previously treated.  If the violation cannot be permanently corrected at the time of inspection, our department will perform a follow up inspection.  These are also violations that, if repeated, can lead to enforcement actions.  Core violations must be corrected within 90 days of the inspection.

Before October 1, 2012:

There were two main categories of violations: critical violations and non-critical violations.

Examples of critical violations include:

  • Absence of a knowledgeable person-in-charge during hours of operation
  • Failure to restrict ill employees from handling food
  • Failure of food employees to wash their hands when required
  • Food employees touching foods that are ready-to-eat with their bare hands
  • Failure to cook raw meats to a safe temperature
  • Failure to cool foods cooked ahead of time rapidly
  • Failure to reheat foods made ahead of time rapidly
  • Failure to store refrigerated foods at or below 41oF and hot foods at or above 135F
  • Cross contamination between raw (uncooked) and ready-to-eat foods
  • Failure to clean and sanitize equipment and utensils that come into direct contact with food
  • Presence of pests in the establishment
  • Failure to use, store, or label cleaners, poisons, and other toxic chemicals properly

Examples of non-critical violations include:

  • Failure to keep the floors, walls, and ceilings of the establishment clean
  • Failure of food employees to wear hair restraints
  • Facility or equipment in disrepair

Critical violations are more likely than non-critical violations to lead to contamination of food or to result in illness if not corrected. Each violation listed in an inspection report clearly states whether or not the violation is critical.

In the inspection report, critical violations are listed as "Violation (Critical)", followed by the name of the violation, while non-critical violations are listed by name of the violation only. Additionally, there is a link for each violation that describes that violation in detail.

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Are inspections scored?

Inspections of food service establishments in Michigan are not scored. The best way to judge the results of an inspection is to read the entire inspection report!

A perfect routine inspection report would have: 

  • No Priority or Priority foundation violations
  • No repeat violations
  • No violations overall

A typical routine inspection report may have: 

  • A small number of Priority or Priority foundation violations that are corrected at the time of inspection
  • No repeat Priority or Priority foundation violations
  • A small number of repeat Core violations
  • Few to several violations overall

A poor routine inspection report generally has:

  • Several Priority or Priority foundation violations that are not corrected at the time of inspection 
  • Repeat Priority or Priority foundation violations 
  • Repeat Core violations 
  • Several violations overall

It is important to remember that the presence of violations in a past inspection report does not necessarily mean that an establishment has the same violations today. Furthermore, large establishments with extensive menus will generally have more violations than small establishments with simple menus. This does not mean that large establishments are less safe than smaller ones. So, when comparing inspection reports from different establishments, consider whether they are of similar size and have similar menus.

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What happens if an establishment has violations?

A food service operator shall correct all violations of the Food Code by the time allowed in the inspection report. Failure to do so results in either summary or progressive enforcement action.

Washtenaw County Environmental Health Division takes summary enforcement action when the violations at issue pose an imminent health hazard. Summary actions include the immediate limitation, suspension, or revocation of a license to protect public health. Imminent health hazards include:

  • Lack of water or electrical power
  • An uncontained foodborne illness outbreak
  • Severe pest infestation
  • Back-up of sewage in the kitchen
  • Fire
  • Flood
  • Any other situation in which the public may be in immediate danger

When an establishment has one or more of these imminent health hazards, the health department orders the operation closed, and the operation may reopen only after correcting the violations.

The Environmental Health Division pursues progressive enforcement action when the violations do not pose an imminent health hazard. According to the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act, a food service license holder must be given three (3) opportunities to correct violations before his or her license is limited, suspended or revoked: 

  • Opportunity #1 is to correct violations during the routine and follow-up inspection process. When this fails, the license holder is called to attend an "Office Conference."
  • Opportunity #2 is to correct violations immediately following the Office Conference. When this fails, the license holder is called to attend an "Informal Hearing." 
  • Opportunity #3 is to correct violations immediately following the Informal Hearing. When this fails, the health department limits, suspends, or revokes the food service establishment license. The license holder may request a "Formal Hearing" before the Washtenaw County Environmental Health Food Service Board to appeal the action.

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How do I read an inspection report?

The following abbreviations are sometimes used by the Sanitarians when writing their inspection reports:

BHC - Bare Hand Contact - Foods that will not receive any further cooking, such as salads, cold sandwiches, and breads, may not be touched with bare hands. Workers must use gloves, utensils, etc. to handle the food. 

DM - Date Marking - Foods that need to be kept refrigerated and must be marked with a use by date. Common examples of foods that need date marking are tuna salad, cold cuts, pasta salad and some salad dressings.

FIFO - First In, First Out - This phrase refers to proper product rotation. If the item is the first in the refrigerator (i.e. the oldest), then it should be used first.

PHF - Potentially Hazardous Food - This abbreviation refers to foods that must be kept hot or cold to prevent bacterial growth. Examples of potentially hazardous foods include meats, cheeses, cooked pasta, cooked rice, cooked vegetables, soups, and some raw produce such as seed sprouts and cut melon.

PIC - Person In Charge - Each restaurant is required to have a person in charge at the restaurant at all times while they are preparing or serving foods. That person must be knowledgeable about the safe operation of their facility.

RTE - Ready-to-Eat - This phrase refers to foods that need no further cooking, cleaning or processing to be consumed. Examples include salads, sandwiches, sushi, and pizza.

WIC - Walk In Cooler - This is the large refrigerator that many restaurants have to keep the bulk of their foods cold.

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Where can I get more information?

For more information on restaurant reports, restaurant licensing, or food safety in general, please call:
Washtenaw County Department of Public Health
Environmental Health Division
(734) 222-3800

Also, visit our other Food Safety pages for information on opening a restaurant, food allergies, and more!

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