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Call of (Kitchen) Duty: How We Recovered from a DOH Shutdown and Lived to Tell About It

Updated: Dec 20, 2023


After being stunned by our recent DOH shutdown, and having every gory detail published in the press, we finally learned our lesson the hard way. What we thought was unthinkable happened to us -- and it can happen to you, too. (Link here).


After ten years of nearly flawless operations, we were caught off guard and suffered a devastating DOH inspection. Yes, we had a bad day, but at the same time the inspector was 100% right and we have no argument or excuse.


We just never thought that we would be temporarily closed. It really hurt.


Besides our own operation, we have watched one restaurant after another failing their inspections and having the results prominently published in the press. The papers know readers are going to give plenty of clicks.


This seems to be happening everywhere. In addition to the weekly headlines, the results are usually posted on the DOH website. With A.I. and search tools readily available, we are now totally exposed.


That is when we decided the risk was too great to leave our DOH inspections to chance. Even though we never had any significant DOH violations in the past, things quickly spun out of control in that one fateful visit that led to our first shutdown.


And just one day of slip-ups caused incredible damage.


Having suffered those consequences, we knew that we had to take positive action to help prevent this from ever happening again. We were lucky to have found HealthInspectorPro. What this company does is nothing less than genius.


What does HealthInspectorPro Do?

HealthInspectorPro does exactly what the DOH does on a surprise visit.


They utilize the exact same forms and follow the same process as on an official visit. Nobody knows in advance when they are coming.


But since it is a privately arranged inspection, there is no risk at all. The purpose is to test our operations and to be prepared for the real thing. Over time, the staff becomes accustomed to passing inspections.


Recently, I had to pass a licensing exam. I took an online course which included all kinds of quizzes. After practicing them multiple times and getting my score consistently beyond the passing-threshold, I aced the real thing on the very first try. It was easy.


It's the same idea here but on a larger scale. HealthInspectorPro conducts "live" inspections under real-life circumstances. They utilize the exact same form used by the DOH and review your operation in real-time. Nobody has time to prepare and you get an accurate snapshot of how you will fare during an actual DOH visit.


Even better, there is absolutely no risk to you


Before we engaged HealthInspectorPro, we all used to take a deep breath when the DOH arrived for their regular inspection.


It’s so easy for one careless employee or a few unseen conditions to cause a terrible outcome. And how can you monitor everything?

  • Did the dishwasher put a box of raw meat on the floor in the walk-in?

  • Is everyone wearing their PPE?

  • Are workers touching their cell phones while working with food?

  • Are there working thermometers in every cooler?

  • Is the latest batch of chowder cooling off in an ice-bath?

  • Are our licenses and certifications all in order?

  • Do we have the required shell-fish tags? Is the menu properly marked?

  • Are there expired milk cartons in the service area?

Adding up just a few errors could easily spell disaster for any operation. The line between a good and bad inspection is quite thin indeed. Once that happens, it can’t be undone.


Can you blame anyone for becoming complacent? For 363 days of the year, we really don’t focus on the possibility of a devastating DOH inspection. Only when we find out the inspector is here do we have that “oh boy” moment.

Everyone just reacts and tries to make on-the-fly corrections in the precious few minutes before the tour begins.


It feels like when you get pulled over by a cop. But worse, because you know your violations are going to be 100% published and that the potential downside to your operation could be quite catastrophic.


We thought about having our own periodic self-audits. It all started out well and good, but the effect is just not the same.


Nothing can replicate those heart-pounding real-life conditions than having an outsider knock on the door and say “Let’s go….” It’s the only way you can really get to the truth of an operation.


We Called HealthInspectorPro – Here is What Happened


We filled out the online inquiry form and booked a date/time on their website for an initial review. The representative:

  • Confirmed our seating capacity, size of the production facility, menu mix, and other physical features.

  • Provided a firm cost-quotation for services and set up our account with a $250 one time registration fee.

  • Identified optimal “time-windows” to conduct their random and unannounced inspections (at least once per quarter) and specifically avoiding our down-times in order to maximize their findings.

  • Identified contact persons and confirmed their inspectors will be permitted into the facility by our staff when an inspection takes place.

  • Confirmed whether we wish inspections to be in either “Formal” or “Coaching” mode.

  • Determined how and where inspection results are to be delivered.

Now that we are in the system, in addition to just two official DOH inspections per year, we have a minimum of six visits annually. The result is that our staff becomes accustomed and prepared for regular inspections.


Four of these inspections carry no risk to us. We use them as a real life training experience and a chance to improve our score for when the official visit occurs.


Getting Started

Behind the scenes, previous DOH inspection dates and reports were reviewed to help schedule and guide their field-inspector.

  • The inspection fees, which presently range from $1,500 to $3,500 depending on size, is due semi-annually after each 2nd visit. That is, once you register and complete two visits, then the next installment becomes due for the ensuing two visits.

  • The first inspection occurs sometime after your first semi-annual payment is made. There is no advance notice about the date/time, but an effort is made to make the visit land away from the DOH timing previously shown in our records.

  • In the meantime, we advised our staff to ensure cooperation when the program starts.


The First Visit

True to form, some time passed before an inspector made an unannounced arrival. It was 10 am on a Thursday as we prepared for a busy weekend.

During the on-boarding, we were given the option of conducting the visits in either “Formal” or “Coaching” mode.


  • In Formal mode, the tour is conducted as close as possible to an official DOH visit, which is at arms-length with the staff. This allows our team to practice their interactions under real-life conditions and for us to gain feedback about how to respond during the inspection process.

  • In Coaching mode, the same inspection is conducted with the identical standards and outcomes. However, in each phase of the visit, the staff are engaged and counseled about how to properly handle issues that arise during the visit.

For instance, an individual cook might be observed improperly handling cutting boards to prevent cross-contamination. Another employee might place a cell phone on a worktable. In either mode, both would be flagged and a violation noted on the report.


In Formal mode, the issue would be handled by the facility after the fact. In Coaching mode, the inspection would pause and the employee would be educated by the chef as the violation was recorded. The Formal mode is designed to replicate almost exactly a real inspection.


Coaching mode allows members of the team to be immediately engaged and is less adversarial. In either, the facility learns their score and becomes educated about any soft-points to address.


Post-Inspection

At the conclusion of the visit, the inspector sat with us and reviewed the results. Because the threat of adverse action was removed, we could speak very openly and share our views and thoughts about our sanitation do's and dont's without fear.


The forms followed the regular DOH protocol word for word. The final report contained the individual violations and their potential weight in a real visit. In summary, we were advised of whether we passed/failed and whether we were subject to a possible closure or other action.


We were given explicit options about who received the final report and if it was to be password protected. It was up to us how those results were to be shared or utilized.

One thing is for certain: the results were not going to be in the press! And, we were not going to be closed or tagged for a mandatory follow up visit. There was nothing but “upside” for us.


Let’s face it. We all know an inspector can find just about anything on a visit. There is no such thing as perfection. But if we can eliminate 75% or more of the easy-fixes, our chances of passing are most likely drastically improved.


What do we mean by easy-fixes? Simple things like broken thermometers, non-compliant hand-sinks, imperfect storage practices, poor labeling, inadequate sanitizing systems, or even an improper plumbing connection are all basic items that we might not see because we become immune to them.


In the real world, those simple violations might start stacking on top of more difficult to manage violations (cross-contamination, for instance). By reducing the volume of potential violations and conditioning the staff to a series of ongoing inspections, we greatly mitigated our downside risks.


When we have only two inspections per year, at most, how many things do we begin to not see? How much does everyone’s guard drop – until we hear the DOH is at the front door?


The Final View

Our expectation is that after the first year, we’ll see a measurable improvement in our scoring. Maybe quite a bit sooner. Having our operation conditioned to ongoing inspections is a game-changer as far as adding it to our culture.


We also implemented an incentive program to accompany this new process. Depending on the outcome of inspections, we’re giving all those involved an extra perk. They can choose a gift card, extra PTO, a complimentary meal, or any other number of things to keep them interested and engaged.


And it’s “all or none” so that they watch and coach one another about safe practices. Either we all pass together, or we don't. No high-priority violations is our very first goal.

Our dreaded inspections have turned into a fun game in which everyone wins. Considering the cost of negative press and possible interruptions to our business, this is a no-brainer.

Thanks to HealthInspectorPro for bringing an entirely new and refreshing approach to what had become one of the most feared aspects of our operation.


We feel very comfortable and confident we will never have the risk of a closure on a future DOH inspection.


Even better, we should be enjoying a “Perfect Score” rating in the next headline and web listing. That’s exactly where we should be every time.


It's true. We now “Know our Score Before” it happens.


Want more info about this program? Visit www.healthinspectorpro.com and see if they can help you, too.

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