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Restaurant Safety: What You Should Know

Categories: Emergency and Environmental Health Services, National Center for Environmental Health

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Dining out? Keep these things in mind when choosing the right restaurant for you and your family.

Food Safety Rules

The food vendors in your community, like restaurants, delis, grocery stores, and others, must follow local food safety rules. These rules are set by your city, county, district, or state. Each community may have the same or slightly different food safety rules and requirements for food vendors. All food safety rules have similar requirements about

  • Safe source: Food or food ingredients come from a safe source.
  • Safe temperature: Food is held at the correct cold or hot holding temperatures.
  • Proper cooking: Food is cooked properly, especially foods such as meat, poultry, and pork.
  • Proper handling: Food is handled to prevent cross-contamination from the environment (for example, common work areas or common utensils).
  • Proper hand washing: Food handlers know how to prevent contamination, especially food handlers who may be sick with vomiting or diarrhea.


One of the ways food safety rules protect the public’s health is through food vendor inspections. Each community’s rules may differ on

  • How often food vendor inspections are conducted.
  • The type of inspection form used.
  • The type of grading or scoring system used to rate the safety of food vendors.


The system to rate food vendors may be a numerical score, a letter-grade score (A, B, C), or a pass/fail rating. These scores are usually shared with the public in some way, including

  • Food vendor publicly posts their full inspection reports, showing all violations and inspector notes as well as the rating.
  • Food vendor publicly posts only their rating and not the full inspection report.
  • Food safety regulatory agency posts food vendors’ full inspection reports along with the rating on the Internet.
  • Food safety regulatory agency posts only food vendors’ ratings on the Internet.

Talk to your local food safety regulators to find out whether food vendors in your area must display inspection information and what information they must display. You can find the contact information for your local food safety regulators using the Directory of State and Local Officials website. If you can’t find a food vendor’s score or inspection report, ask the manager if you can see the most recent report.

When speaking to your local food regulatory agency about the inspection report for a particular vendor, ask if they have had any recent food safety rule violations for

  • Unsafe food source.
  • Improper hot-holding or cold-holding of food.
  • Improperly cooked food.
  • Cross contamination.
  • Contamination by sick workers.

Reporting Foodborne Illness

Most people don’t report their illness. Public health officials need to know about illnesses that may be caused by food so foodborne outbreaks can be identified and stopped as quickly as possible.

Report your illness to your local food safety regulator if you think a meal from a food vendor made you sick. It is especially important to report illnesses when more than one person gets sick after eating the same meal.

For More Information

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