With so many moving parts in your restaurant, one dares to ask the dreaded question…Is your restaurant in compliance? Let’s find out!

Before the doors to your restaurant even open, one of the most important things to address is meeting building codes and restaurant standards as defined by state and federal mandates as well. In order to serve and sell food and drinks, there are requirements that are as specifically detailed such as:

  • The necessary space around the bathroom sink for ADA compliance,
  • The distance between the surface of a counter or stove and the hood above it,
  • The number of exits you have to flee the building in case of an emergency.

These vary from state to state somewhat, but many of these codes are set by federal regulations, and contractors and construction workers need to be properly trained before starting work on your building.

These codes are extremely important to ensure the safety of your staff, your employees, and yourself, as well as preserving your business’s reputation. Along with this, you will be required to meet certain OSHA standards for your workers, so being up to code is also extremely important for this reason.

Another important consideration is creating a space that is accessible to those with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has many guidelines for creating ADA compliant spaces to give everyone equal and fair access to your establishment.

Checklist for Compliance of Building Codes
  • Open wheelchair and special needs access to your restaurant
  • Clearly marked exits, with a specific number based on your specific occupancy levels
  • 30-inch by 48-inch access to the sink in the bathroom to be ADA compliant
  • Fire Code Safety is essential and there are many guidelines, which can be found here

Foods Handling and Storage

Now, let’s talk about food! One of the most important aspects of compliance in a restaurant is the way your staff handles the food products that you order, store, and sell to your customers. The foods that are served must be fresh and safe to eat, having been properly prepared, stored, and heated to be served. Between coolers staying at the proper temperatures, storage containers being properly closed, and foods being wrapped sufficiently, food can spoil quickly.

Along with these safety precautions, all foods that have been opened or prepped must be correctly labeled with the prepared date, the use-by date, the name of the item, and the initials of the staff member who created the label. Labeling is often overlooked within a kitchen and can contribute to a great deal of food waste and loss when the products are not being adequately accounted for each week. You should always consult your Executive Chef in order to ensure these guidelines are being adhered to on a regular basis. Even better, there is an app now calledFoodkeeper that can give you exact storage times on the go, in case your staff has any questions.

The final and most important consideration is hand washing and gloves. You will need sinks and gloves available to all employees, and they must be trained on proper handwashing techniques.

Checklist for Safe Food Handling Practices
  • Meat and dairy products are good for 3 days
  • Completely vegetarian and vegan foods are good for up to 7 days
  • Gloves and hair coverings are required, and hand washing must be done between foods
  • Labels must be on everything with the opened or created date, the use-by date, and a handler’s name


Clean, clean, clean! The correct chemical or heat sanitization of equipment, kitchen utensils, dishes, glasses, and silverware is the second most important aspect of restaurant compliance. Between food contact during prep shifts, line cooking, and serving, your dishes, utensils, and equipment all run the risk of cross-contamination if they are not washed and sanitized correctly.

For chemical sanitization, you must use an approved sanitizing solution, mixed with warm enough water to activate the solution. Edwards-Councilor is one company that provides ‘Sanitabs’ as they are known for dishes and utensils, as well as sanitizers for surfaces and equipment. Any sanitizing solution needs to be changed every four hours, or when the liquid drops below recommended temperatures. Using pH strips is also a requirement to test the water for its correct pH which means it is functioning properly.

For heat sanitization, a commercial dishwasher can provide the necessary high temperatures, as well, and this is the most effective way to ensure all your dishes and kitchen equipment are completely clean. This is a final step in washing, and many restaurants will spend a great portion of their starting funds acquiring a top-quality dishwasher because it can expedite your daily cleanup operations.

It is also one of the major points on the survey completed by the health department once a year, or more if your restaurant fails to be in compliance with the health department’s standards for health and safety in a food establishment. This is a great reason to ensure your dishwasher is in compliance…before you run into any trouble!

Other examples of equipment that will require regular sanitization are your bar taps, soda machine spouts, and the inside of your coolers. These can all build up bacteria, and without regular proper cleaning, others can get sick, and you can lose valuable points on your health inspection score.

Checklist to Ensure A Good Health Department Score
  • ‘Sanitabs’ or sanitizer solution near the equipment with pH test strips available
  • Hot enough water from your water heater to heat and sanitize kitchen items
  • Correct utilization of sanitization procedures, equipment maintenance, sanitizer buckets
  • Working handwashing stations with soap and hot water

Proper Equipment

Restaurateurs also must consider what equipment is required for commercial business because there are varying levels of personal products available. But when it comes to a restaurant, there are commercial machines and equipment that must be used in order to be in full compliance with state and federal operational laws. Stoves, ranges, hoods, refrigerators, freezers, and dishwashers are all required to be for industrial or commercial use, and failure to maintain all this equipment can result in negative impacts on the quality of food, service, and sanitization.

An incorrectly functioning hood is one of the most dangerous items to ignore in your restaurant. Not being able to extinguish a fire in your kitchen can equal the end of your business and potentially cause the death of an employee. Now, yes, it is around $5000 to refill and reset the foam sprayers, but that is a far lower expense than starting over or losing your restaurant entirely.

When it comes to your coolers and freezers, there are a few very important maintenances that you can perform to remain in compliance, such as cleaning the air vents at the bottom near the compressor coils, ensuring proper drainage of coolants and moisture, and checking all the seals and temperatures on a regular basis. Food products are expensive, especially when a seal fails, and temperatures reach unsafe levels overnight.

Checklist for Compliance of Equipment for Food Storage
  • Coolers need to remain between 32 degrees and 40 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Freezers need to remain at 0 degrees Fahrenheit
  • All equipment must have thermometers inside to monitor temperatures
  • Temperatures must be checked every 1-4 hours depending on the establishment

Staff Training

You have to invest time in your most valuable asset, your people! Yet another key piece of compliance is staff training. Food handling, food service, and alcohol training are all essential to ensure safety and adherence to commonly agreed-upon business practices within the industry.

Each state has its own set of standards, as do many restaurants themselves. Some states require more training and certifications than others, but requiring every staff member to obtain an up-to-date Food Handler’s Permit is one of the absolute most important steps you can take to stay in compliance and prevent a foodborne illness outbreak at your establishment.

70% of foodborne illness outbreaks are caused by improper employee hand washing!

Most states also require that each establishment have one Person-in-Charge (also referred to as a Food Manager), to have a Food Manager Certification. This certification involves an 8+ hour training class and an 80+ question exam. It is usually valid for 5 years.

When it comes to alcohol service, there are even greater advantages to having trained and certified staff to prevent liability. In fact, many states such as Texas and Pennsylvania will offer liquor license holders an incentive for having their staff trained in safe alcohol service.

Knowing that your bartenders are comfortable identifying someone who has been overserved and cutting them off is paramount to keeping a peaceful and safe restaurant environment, and it may save someone’s life. Along with your servers, kitchen staff, and bartenders, you also want to ensure that your General and Assistant Managers are current and up to date with their restaurant management training certifications as well.

Checklist for Staff Training Success
  • Each food handler has completed Basic Food Safety Training and has a valid Food Handlers Card.
  • At least one Person-in-Charge has earned a Food Manager Certification.
  • Each person serving or selling alcohol has completed Alcohol Server Certification.
  • Everyone needs to be aware of safety precautions via signs and compliance training
  • Ensure that your staff maintains the restaurant space to a fully clean level every day

Running a restaurant can certainly be hectic, but staying in compliance doesn’t have to be. Simply stay organized and follow all the guidelines your state outlines along with your federal mandates, and you will be golden!

Want More Information on Your State’s Requirements?

We are here to help.

Email Us at BusinessServices@eFoodHandlers.com!

Building Codes:

Food Storage:


Proper Equipment: