The Health Inspector just showed up!

Health Safety

April 7, 2016

“The Health Inspector just showed up!” There is a rush of customers in the cafe; a newly trained barista is on bar; the bathroom is out of toilet paper AND the health inspector just walked in. If this has not happened to you and you own or manage a cafe, it will. Health inspectors have an uncanny knack of showing up at the worst time. However, if your systems and procedures don’t run properly, especially when things are reaching max chaos, you need to rethink your systems. Below are a few points to pay extra close attention to in cafe settings.

5 Major Risk Factors

1. Food from unsafe/unapproved sources. As small business owners, we want to collaborate and support other small businesses. However, when it comes to outsourcing food items, is it your responsibility to make sure the home baker or cook has proper health licensing. You will be held liable if someone gets sick.
2. Poor personal hygiene: Cafe employees are know for being independent, outside of the box type of people. However, when it comes to personal hygiene, it is important that they follow the rules: wash hair regularly, brush teeth, no long jewelry, clean clothes, long hair pulled back, wear gloves when touching food (and coffee beans).
3. Lack of temperature control: Baristas live and die by thermometers and scales. People live and die (or get really sick) by food borne illnesses mainly do to improper storage. Thermometers are the BEST way to insure foods are kept at a safe temperature. All your refrigerators MUST have thermometers and they must be at or below 40 degrees. Any hot food must be kept at or above 140 degrees. When heating or cooling food, the 41 to 135 degree range is the most hazardous, so heating up and cooling off quickly is important.

Danger Zone Health Chart

Danger Food Temp Zone Chart

4. Cross contamination: If you are making food, keep raw meat away from raw veggies. The most contaminating food should be stored in the bottom of the fridge with the least contaminating on top. However, in a cafe, the most common cross-contamination issue comes into play when staff touches food with their hands that will be directly eaten by the customers. ALWAYS use gloves, tongs or paper when touching food that will NOT be heated prior to eating.
5. Poor sanitization: Contaminated equipment is the biggest concern: knives, cutting boards, thermometers, and milk pitchers. It is a good idea to have a small bucket of sanitizer solution to quickly dunk thermometers between uses. Sanitize steam pitchers throughout the day.

Washing Hands for Health

Health Wash Hands Poster

Thoroughly wash hands

Along with thermometers, washing hands frequently and properly is critical. It is so important that health departments require a specific sink just for hand washing. Make sure the sink has soap and paper towels. (And yes, ours does run out too.) Hands should be washed after handling…

  • dirty dishes
  • money
  • meat
  • face and hair
  • sneezing
  • sweeping
  • emptying trash
  • going to the restroom
  • cleaning

Hands should be washed before…

  • making drinks
  • setting table or handling silverware
  • working with food

NOTE, wedding bands are OK for handing food, but stones should be covered up. One final note, fingernail polish is not allowed when working with food. Baristas work with food (milk and coffee), so if they have fingernail polish, they must wear gloves. If cashiers are working with food, like serving pastries, they must wear gloves as well. We have a blanket policy of no fingernail polish.


Towels are as important as cups in a cafe. Since their role is to absorb, they absorb lots of bacteria along the way. Dedicate bar towels: one for steam wands, one for portafilters, one for the drip tray and one for the counter. When a towel drops on the floor, it must NOT be used again prior to washing. Do not use these towels for wiping faces or hands. Most laundry services do not offer dark towels, but dark bar towels are the best since wet coffee is dark. White towels can look dirty quickly.


If you are operating or are planning to open a cafe, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the food safety requirements. Here are a few links to help you out:

USDA Food Safety Education

State of NH Dept of Health

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