Food safety inspection is the process of evaluating the quality of food products as well as the methods, equipment, and environment where the food is stored and prepared for public consumption. The inspection process seeks to minimize the opportunities for food contamination by making sure the food is processed properly and in a sanitary environment. This type of health inspection takes place at a number of different points before the food is actually consumed.
The process of food safety inspection usually begins with manufacturers that produce packaged foods. In order to ensure that each food item produced is in accordance with government regulations regarding food quality and hygiene, many companies have their own in-house food inspectors. The job of the inspectors is to make sure the preparation facilities are clean and that the food is handled in a safe manner during processing. This includes making sure that raw foods are refrigerated or otherwise stored so as to ensure freshness. By taking this precaution, the manufacturer can be assured that when periodic inspections are conducted by local or federal government officials, the facility can retain a high rating and continue production.
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Food safety inspection also takes place at retail locations where packaged foods are sold. Here, the focus is often on making sure the goods offered are fit for human consumption. For example, inspectors will make sure that all coolers and freezing units are operating at an acceptable temperature, allowing the foods to remain free from mold or other contamination. Canned goods and packaged foods such as cereals are also inspected to make sure no items are displayed that are past the “sell-by” date listed on the product. In the case of supermarkets with a meat department, the equipment and storage facilities for the raw meat must comply with governmental standards to minimize the potential of food poisoning from contaminated or spoiled meat.
Even at a local restaurant, the process of food safety inspection continues. A local health inspector will make periodic visits to any establishment that sells food prepared on the premises. The inspector will be on the alert for any factors that may impact proper food sanitation, such as food stored near cleaning supplies, raw meat left uncovered on a counter, or the presence of vermin in the food preparation or serving area.
A grading system allows the inspector to provide each facility with a health rating. In many countries, that rating must be displayed, along with any violations that were identified during the last visit. In extreme cases, a low score on a food safety inspection will lead to the temporary closing of the establishment until the violations are corrected and the inspector deems the facility to be safe for food preparation and serving once again.
In all cases, food safety inspection helps to minimize the opportunity for food-borne illness by protecting communities from consuming foods that are improperly packaged, out of date, or prepared in an unsanitary environment. From this perspective, food safety inspection can be seen as an important element in the process of promoting and maintaining good public health within the community.