Restaurant Public Health Inspectors

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 What Are Food Safety Violations?

Each state in the United States has food safety and inspection laws. These laws are intended to protect consumers from injuries such as food poisoning or foodborne illnesses.

Food safety laws govern how food distributors, manufacturers, and restaurants provide food to consumers. One example of this is how food safety laws dictate that food that is expired, spoiled, or contaminated should never be served to customers.

In addition, there are many local counties that also regularly inspect restaurants and other businesses that sell food. These inspections are conducted to ensure that restaurants and businesses that sell food are complying with food safety standards.

Some places have letter rating systems for restaurants that indicate how well they comply with food safety standards. These ratings are intended to provide consumers with a simple and quick way to determine whether or not it is safe to eat at a certain establishment.

If an establishment has repeated food safety violations, they may face an administrative hearing and liability to customers.

What Is the Model Food Code?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created the Model Food Code to provide uniform regulations for food safety in each state. The health department in each state creates its own requirements for sanitation and food safety practices in restaurants.

The FDA also created the Model Food Code to help health departments know what conditions restaurants should observe. This code provides a nationwide standard that makes following the policies easier for parties who are required to follow them.

These guidelines, for example, can help a restaurant owner who owns restaurants in multiple states know they have to observe the same criteria in all of their restaurants. It is important to note that the Model Food Code is not a federal law.

The Code only provides a set of suggestions for states to follow. This means it is within the discretion of the health department in each state to incorporate the suggestions.

There are some state health departments that have established their regulations based on the Code. Other states, however, have taken very little, if anything, from the Code at all.

What Does the Model Food Code Incorporate?

The Model Food Code covers all aspects of running restaurants and recommends including safety and sanitation in all steps. Issues that are covered by the Code include:

  • Protecting against contamination of food at different stages of obtaining and preparing the food, including using proper temperatures to store and cook food;
  • How to dispose of contaminated food;
  • How to make restorations in restaurants in a safe and sanitary manner;
  • How to sanitize restaurant equipment, for example, eating utensils;
  • Labeling, identifying, storage, and use of poisonous or toxic materials such as cleaners and detergents; and
  • A manual outlining how to perform restaurant safety inspections.

What Public Health Inspectors Do at Restaurants?

City and state health inspectors protect public welfare by ensuring that eating establishments comply with state health codes. One of the main goals of public health inspectors is to prevent foodborne illnesses by looking for the following types of violations in restaurants:

  • Food being stored at unsafe temperatures or other types of unsafe food storage;
  • Employee hygiene and unclean restrooms;
  • Mold;
  • Other general unsanitary conditions like rodent droppings.

Some states also require that food establishments be inspected a specific number of times every year without announcement.

What Happens if a Restaurant Violates a Health Code?

State agencies have the legal authority to require that food establishments be in compliance with health codes. Establishments that are found to be in violation may face one or more of the following penalties:

  • Fines;
  • Closure of the establishment;
  • Unannounced follow-up visits;
  • Mandatory attendance to “Serve Safe” courses or food safety classes;
  • Administrative hearing.

What Legal Remedies Are Available for an Injury?

If an individual suffers from food poisoning, the establishment that sold the food may be responsible for failing to exercise reasonable care in storing and preparing food. Or, they may be found strictly liable for the defective food product. In addition, in some cases, the establishment may have breached a warranty.

Legal theories that establishments may be sued under include:

  • Negligence;
  • Strict product liability;
  • Breach of warranty.


Under the doctrine of negligence, businesses are required to exercise reasonable care. In the context of a restaurant, reasonable care means that the restaurant has to preserve a safe environment, deliver safe products, such as meals, and eliminate unreasonable dangers.

Negligence claims arise when a restaurant breaches its duty to its customers. For example, a restaurant breaches its duty if it keeps a messy kitchen and stows food in an unsanitary manner.

In negligence cases against stores or restaurants for food poisoning, the plaintiff is required to demonstrate that the business caused the food poisoning. This may be hard to establish in these types of cases.

In addition to this, the plaintiff has to show that the food from that specific business caused their illness and not food from another place. The plaintiff may have eaten at several different places and then became sick.

The origin of the sickness must be isolated and specified. A doctor must be immediately consulted in order to resolve the illness and determine the contaminated food.

The plaintiff also has to prove harm or injury. Simply becoming ill does not fulfill this requirement.

Strict Product Liability

Another legal theory is strict product liability. The majority of states have some type of strict product liability. In a tainted food case, the plaintiff has to show that the food that was served by the restaurant or bought at the store was defective as well as unreasonably dangerous.

The plaintiff must also show that the bad and unreasonably dangerous food caused their sickness. The plaintiff does not have to show a lack of reasonable care as with negligence.

Businesses may be responsible under strict liability for selling contaminated food. Any party in the distribution chain may be sued, including food distributors, retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers.

Breach of Warranty

The majority of states have implied warranties under their commercial regulations. Usually, implied warranties provide that a product will conform to an ordinary customer’s expectations and follow minimal quality specifications.

When contaminated food results in food poisoning, the injured customer may be able to assert that the food did not conform to an ordinary buyer’s expectation of non-contaminated food. Similar to strict product liability, implied warranties follow the food through the distribution chain unless it is voided by contract or expressly restricted.

What Damages Can I Receive for Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning cases are not uncommon and may even make headlines. Viruses and bacteria that may cause food poisoning include:

  • E. Coli;
  • Hepatitis;
  • Botulism;
  • Norovirus;
  • Listeria;
  • Shigella.

If food poisoning results in illness or injury, the damages an individual may be able to recover in a personal injury case may include:

  • Medical bills;
  • Lost income;
  • Out-of-pocket expenses;
  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress.

In a unique severe case, a death may result from food poisoning. The family members of the deceased individual may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the responsible business.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Health Violation?

Typically, restaurants that are in violation of health codes receive comparable penalties as well as opportunities to be cleaned and reexamined for compliance with the applicable code. Repeated violations, however, may be a serious issue that can lead to liability.

If you have suffered illness or injury as a result of food poisoning, it is important to consult with a government lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will advise you of what legal theories you may be able to sue under, as well as what damages you may be able to receive.

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