Once a business is licensed, it can expect the Department to help ensure its proper operation through a variety of activities, including unannounced sanitary inspections.
Approximately 115 food inspectors working statewide in the Division of Food Safety and Inspection conduct inspections in approximately 28,000 food establishments. These establishments include grocery stores, supermarkets, manufacturing/processing plants, beverage plants, food warehouses, wholesale bakeries, and food salvage dealers.
Inspections take place where food is produced, shipped, processed, or sold to check compliance with food safety and labeling laws. The potential hazard of the food or the process determines how many inspections are done annually.
Grocery Store Inspections
Food inspectors routinely inspect grocery stores throughout the state to check sanitary conditions, food preparation procedures, and storage conditions, as well as compliance with licensing, pricing, labeling, and point-of-purchase advertising regulations. Food inspectors collect samples of fresh, in-store packaged and processed food and send them to the Department's Food Laboratory for analysis. Inspectors may also make investigatory visits, many of which are prompted by consumer complaints.
Regardless of the initial purpose of the inspection, if the inspector’s eyes or nose detects anything out of order during the visit, the inspection will broaden. Any infractions of the law will trigger enforcement action. Food inspectors are quick to spot insanitary meat grinders, meat or milk cases which are too warm, unsafe soup or salad handling procedures, and soggy "frozen" vegetables. When warranted, inspectors can place entire food shipments under seizure until diagnostic testing is complete and the inspector either clears the food for sale, puts some condition on its sale, or orders it held for destruction following a hearing.
Licensing, sanitation, and storage conditions are the main focus of inspections at the 2,400 warehouses located throughout New York State. Food inspectors make sure licenses are in force and conduct visual inspections of the physical plant to establish that it is in good condition, clean, dry, and free of animal or insect infestation. They check refrigeration equipment, take air temperature readings, look for evidence of spoilage, and collect food samples for physical, chemical, and microbiological analyses. When violations occur, enforcement action is taken, including food seizures
Food Processing Facility Inspections
There are approximately 2,800 food processing facilities in New York State. Once again, inspectors verify licensing and check for proper sanitary conditions. Since fresh food is undergoing change at these processing facilities, the process and equipment used are under close scrutiny. Violations can result in immediate plant closure through summary license suspensions or injunction actions brought in New York State courts.
Retail Store Letter Grades
Following the Department's sanitary inspection of a retail food store, the inspector will issue the store a Notice of Inspection. The Notice of Inspection will give the store an "A", "B", or "C" letter grade, which corresponds to the results of their most recent sanitary inspection.
- A: No critical deficiencies were found. (The food safety program in place is working.)
- B: Although critical deficiencies were found, they were corrected at time of inspection. (There is room for continuous improvement.)
- C: Critical deficiencies were found but were not or could not be corrected. (There is a need for immediate corrective action.)
Critical deficiencies are leading contributing factors which cause food borne illness. The top 5 critical deficiencies found during inspections are:
- Deficiency 4-F. Insect, rodent, bird or vermin activity likely to result in product contamination
- Deficiency 4-A. Food contact equipment, utensils or conveyances for potentially hazardous foods: contact surfaces unclean or not properly sanitized and likely to contribute to contamination
- Deficiency 3-D. Employee handwashing facilities inadequate for establishments handling exposed foods
- Deficiency 4-H. Equipment cleaning or sanitizing facilities inadequate for establishments handling potentially hazardous foods
- Deficiency 6-B. Potentially hazardous foods are not stored at safe temperatures
Posting the Notice of Inspection
The Department requires that the Notice of Inspection be posted in an obvious location near each public entrance to the retail store. Consumers can also request copies of the inspection notice from the retailer.