Restaurant Inspections

Gallatin City-County Health Department, Environmental Health Services inspects, educates and assists the food service industry to make sure that products passed on to you are safe. Licensed establishments are inspected one or more times each year. Inspection frequency is determined by the complexity of the operation and the history of compliance with the food rules.

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State of Montana Regulations – Food Safety

The Department of Public Health and Human Services is authorized in state law (often referred to as MCA’s) to adopt administrative rules or ARM’s to regulate food safety throughout the state. Click the Retail Food Establishments to read the current State of Montana regulations on food safety.

Licensed Establishment Inspections FAQ

Food safety inspections are important and help secure trust in the food we eat. Sanitarians from the Gallatin City-County Health Department help to monitor food establishments by conducting inspections. These inspections are an important regulatory tool designed to prevent and minimize negative impacts on public health. During an inspection, sanitarians evaluate food preparations and help educate licensed establishments on proper guidelines to prevent unsafe food handling practices Inspections are a “snapshot” of any given operation and violations observed during an inspection may not reflect the typical practices of the establishment.  

Routine inspection 

Routine inspections are done on a regular basis, by a local sanitarian. These are typically unannounced visits and occur on a frequency that depends on the facility’s risk category and cover a wide range of food safety compliance areas.  (See Risk Based Inspection for more information.) 

Follow-Up Inspection 

A follow-up inspection typically happens within a set period following a routine or risk-based inspection. These inspections are completed to verify corrective actions were taken when violations were reported during a routine inspection. Prior observations or non-compliance can also require a follow-up inspection.  

Risk-Based Inspection 

During a risk-based inspection, sanitarians focus their efforts on evaluating how a food establishment (restaurant, mobile facility) handles the five major risk factors related to employee behaviors and preparation practices. Sanitarians focus most of their time observing behaviors, practices, and procedures that are likely to lead to foodborne illness and ask management and food employees questions to supplement their observations. A sanitarian may focus more time on specific risks based on the type of products served, compliance history, and other critical factors. 

Complaint-Based Investigation/Targeted Inspection 

These inspections occur in response to a specific complaint or concern related to food safety. When a concerned individual or party reports an issue, the health department investigates. The goal is to address the specific issue promptly and ensure corrective actions are taken. These can also turn into targeted inspections where sanitarians focus on specific food safety risks and may focus on specific impacts (flooding, power outages, water contamination, etc.), food safety trends, or a history of compliance. These inspections aim to ensure food safety by addressing specific concerns and risks.  

The health department’s online inspection reports show RFI violations that were observed at the time of inspection.  In the context of food service operations, these violations are often called “priority violations” that demand prompt correction. These violations are related to practices that if not done properly, are more likely to lead to food borne illness. Here are examples of risks related to food preparation practices and employee behaviors that play an important role in maintaining food safety.  

  • Food from Unsafe Sources: using ingredients with questionable safety. 
  • Improper Holding Temperatures: food not stored at safe temperatures. 
  • Inadequate Cooking:  undercooked or raw food items. 
  • Contaminated Environment/Equipment: Utensils and surfaces that can transfer harmful substances. 
  • Poor Personal Hygiene: Hygiene practices (handwashing) of food handlers.  

Remember, inspections are a “snapshot” of any given operation and violations observed during an inspection may not reflect the typical practices of the establishment. Looking at a series of reports and the inspector comments can provide a more comprehensive understanding of the establishment’s performance.  

These interventions collectively contribute to safer food handling practices and protect public health. The FDA Food Code, serves as the technical and regulatory guidance for the state of Montana and local governments to establish its own food safety rules. The Food Code addresses specific controls for risk factors and created five key public health interventions to protect consumer health.   

  • Demonstration of Knowledge: food handlers and managers must demonstrate understanding of safe food handling practices such as handwashing procedures, temperature controls, etc.  
  • Employee Health Controls: the business must monitor employee health to prevent foodborne transmission, sick employees should be restricted from handling food.  
  • Controlling Hands as a Vehicle of Contamination: hands are a common route for illness, proper handwashing and glove usage are critical to prevent contamination.  
  • Time and Temperature for Controlling Pathogens: proper cooking, cooling, and reheating temperatures are important. Food must be stored and served within safe temperature ranges.  
  • Consumer Advisory: restaurants serving raw or undercooked foods must provide clear advisories and inform consumers about risks to help consumers make informed choices. Foods that may increase the risk of foodborne illness include raw or undercooked animal meats, fish, shellfish, or unpasteurized raw eggs. 

Not all violations require a restaurant or other food business to close. Some violations are considered “corrected on site” before a sanitarian leaves the establishment or may require the sanitarian to review new policies, documents, or procedures as part of a follow-up inspection.

The health officer can order a restaurants closure for an imminent health hazard. An imminent health hazard as defined in the 2013 Food Code is “a significant threat or danger to health that is considered to exist when there is evidence sufficient to show that a product, practice, circumstance, or event creates a situation that requires immediate correction or cessation of operation to prevent injury based on the number of potential injuries and the nature, severity, and duration of the anticipated injury.”

The health officer assesses each situation and bases decisions on evidence which includes observations by sanitarians, reports from concerned individuals, and the potential harm to customers. This responsibility allows the health officer to take quick action to protect consumers and prevent further harm.

Brown, Laura G. et al. (2017). Outbreak Characteristics Associated with Identification of Contributing Factors to Foodborne Illness Outbreaks. 145(11). 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). National Environmental Assessment Reporting System. What are Contributing Factors? https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/nears/what-are-contributing-factors.htm 

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2013). FDA Food Code. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/retail-food-protection/fda-food-code  

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2022). FDA Food Code. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/media/164194/download 

QUESTIONS?

Please contact us at:
406.582.3120 or ehs@gallatin.mt.gov

Si hablas española, envíanos un correo electrónico aquí. hola@gallatin.mt.gov