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How to Be a Champion at the Health Inspection Game


It’s Game Time!

My apologies to those of you who are not sports fans, but I often like to think of food safety in sports terms.  Health inspections are no different.  When the Inspector makes that unannounced visit to your turf, it’s Game Time.  All the hard work and practice your team has put in will now be at full display against your opponent in front of a national audience in the form of a Health Inspection score that will sit on your wall for months for all to see.  It’s a Prime Time contest, and you want to play your best.

Hold it!  STOP!  I know what you’re thinking.  And you’re wrong.  The Health Inspector is NOT your opponent.  And this line of thinking is why too many people lose the game.  Your Health Inspector is the referee.  He calls the fouls according to the rules.  The rules are the same for all teams.  If you are focusing on the referee, you’ll never be a Champion.

Sure, each referee may call some fouls a little differently, but that’s part of the game.  You can spend your time whining about the referee or you can spend your time preparing to blow away your opponent.  The choice you make will determine the success of your restaurant in this game.

Who, then, is your opponent?  Let’s call this team The Pathogens.  The Pathogens are a tough team to play, and in the Restaurant Division you’re stuck playing this opponent all the time.  You’re in the NFL (National Foodservice League), and the Pathogens are your toughest competition because if you lose to them, your season may be over.  It’s like single elimination.  If you fail to play well, there may not be a rematch.  A single foodborne illness can destroy your name or even close your restaurant.

The Pathogens have a well-balance offense that takes advantage of weaknesses in time and temperatures, and they will exploit poor hygiene every chance they get.  Sometimes the Pathogens will take what the defense gives them and keep the ball moving when they see your team has poor cleaning and sanitizing, or sometimes they’ll go for the long ball if your team is not able to defend against pests.  Touchdown, Pathogens.

The Pathogens are also strong on defense.  They know that your offensive strengths are customer service, so they counterattack with regulations for which you didn’t you didn’t prepare.  Your team may be the best in the league at quality entrees and attractive environments, but the Pathogens know how to defend with compliance, and they take advantage of slips in facility maintenance.

And have no doubt, there is no home field advantage when playing the Pathogens.


So what makes a good team in the NFL?  The desire for perfection.

The Super Bowl Trophy – the ultimate prize of being a Champion in professional football – is named after Vince Lombardi.  Lombardi took over as coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1959 following a season where the team had only one win in 12 games, worst in the 38-year franchise history.  On his first day on the job he got his team to rededicate.  He said, “We are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect.  But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.  I am not remotely interested in just being good.”

In his first season the team finished with a 7-5 winning record.  In his second season, they won the Western Conference title but lost in the Championship Game on the game’s final play.  It would be Lombardi’s only loss in a Championship Game.  In this third year, they won the NFL Championship.

Under Lombardi, the Packers won five NFL Championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.  His quest for perfection led to his legendary level of excellence.

The most important thing you need to remember when it comes to health inspections is this…You’ve already won or lost the game before the Inspector walks in your door.  The best teams are the ones who have studied their opponent, prepared for every scenario, and drilled over and over until they could perform with total confidence.  Without even thinking.  Without worrying what the outcome will be.  Without fear or panic.

Far too often fear and panic are the first reactions from a restaurant team when they see the Health Inspector walk in.  Why would you fear the referee if you are prepared for your opponent?


There are only two reasons why a visit from the Health Inspector strikes fear into you and your restaurant team:

  1. Your restaurant is well prepared, but the Health Inspector might find one infraction that ruins your day and creates a false picture of how good your team really is


  1. Your restaurant is poorly prepared for the game and you will be exposed as a loser by the Health Inspector (harsh reality, but often true)

Just as Lombardi said, “Nothing is perfect,” referees aren’t perfect either.  Health Inspectors will make judgement calls that aren’t in your favor.  But if you get an exceptionally poor Health Inspection score, it’s not because you got a lousy referee.  It’s because the Pathogens are kicking your team’s butt.  It’s because you were not prepared.  It’s because you were only interested in being “good.”  It’s because you didn’t practice to be a Champion.  You didn’t chase perfection.


How to be a Champion

At Safe Food Plus, we help you “catch excellence.”  We offer an independent health inspection of your restaurant that insists on perfection.  We help you win the game against the Pathogens day in and day out with our Independent Quality Assurance (IQA) Audits program.


  • 1. We conduct a full North Carolina health inspection (the same report used by the Health Inspector), that gives you a “practice run” before the actual inspection.
  • 2. We also give you a proprietary, detailed Audit Summary Report that includes:
    • An honest, independent overview of results, strengths, weaknesses and how your team is really doing concerning food safety
    • An Item-by-item detail summary on weaknesses seen, including pictures and how to correct the issues
    • Coaching on how to ensure that you are ready when the Health Inspector shows (i.e., ready for “Prime Time”)
    • Supplemental training as needed to help make your team is a Champion
  • 3. We follow up with supplemental audits to ensure that your team is ready
  • 4. We partner with management to help reduce risk and increase profit through additional food safety programs


Be a Champion.  Shut out the Pathogens.  Let Safe Food Plus help you.  Call us at 919-766-2676, or email us for more information at info@safefoodplus.com.



Steve Franke is Founder and Executive Director of Safe Food Plus LLC, a consulting company that provides food safety expertise to growing and expanding restaurant brands.  Steve has more than two decades of experience in the restaurant business, is a certified National Restaurant Association ServSafe® Instructor and Proctor, and can be reached directly at steve@safefoodplus.com.

Safe Food Plus LLC is a proud member of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.  We believe that a culture of excellent food safety programs protects your brand and increases your profitability.  Our goal is to lower risk, save you money, increase sales, and lower employee turnover through a food safety partnership.