OLR Research Report

July 23, 2008




By: John Kasprak, Senior Attorney

Saul Spigel, Chief Analyst

You asked for information on restaurant inspections in certain other states. You are particularly interested in the state agency responsible for restaurant inspections, the frequency and scope of inspections, penalties for inspection violations, and public disclosure of inspection results.


We examined restaurant inspection practices in Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as in New York City.

In each jurisdiction, the state health department, or a related entity, has responsibility for conducting food establishment inspections. In most cases, the state agency can delegate this duty to a local board or department of health that is then authorized to perform inspections to enforce a food or sanitary code.

In regard to frequency of inspections, Massachusetts and Oregon require an inspection at least every six months, although Massachusetts can extend the time between inspections in certain cases. In Maryland, inspections vary depending on an establishment's priority level, which is based on how the food is prepared and served. Minnesota bases the rate of inspection on risk categories (high, medium and low), with high risk facilities inspected once every 12 months, while low risk only every 24 months.

New Jersey can inspect as often as deemed necessary by the inspecting agency. New York City has unannounced annual inspections. In Rhode Island, inspection frequency is based on the food establishment's history of compliance with the state's food code. Vermont allows for inspections “at all reasonable times.”

Each state, as well as New York City, impose penalties for violations of their respective food establishment laws. These penalties include terms of imprisonment in (Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island).

Table 1 contains detailed information on each state.

Table 1: Restaurant Inspections


Regulatory Agency

Inspecting Agency

Covered Facilities

Scope of Inspections

Inspection Frequency


Public Disclosure of Inspection Results


Dept. of Public Health, Division of Food and Drugs

State Sanitary Code delegates to local boards of health the authority to enforce the code

“Food establishment” is an operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption.


Food handling

Employee hygiene

Equipment, utensils, and linen

Water, plumbing, and waste

Other physical facilities

Toxic and poisonous materials

Every six months, but the regulatory authority can increase the interval between inspections beyond six months based on a written risk-based inspection schedule approved by the health department and uniformly applied throughout the jurisdiction.

Fine of up to $100 for first offense, up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

Local board of health may, without prior hearing, suspend permit to operate if imminent health hazard found.

Inspection reports are a public record; some local health departments (e.g., Boston and Cambridge) make them available online.


Health & Mental Hygiene Dept (HMHD), Community Health Administration, Food Control Div.

County and local health departments

Food service facilities where (1) food or drink is prepared for on- or off-premises sale or service or (2) food is served to the public with or without charge.

Food facilities include:


Coffee shops, cafes, taverns, sandwich stands


Retail markets and bakeries


Institutions, schools, camps, churches

Temporary operations

Comprehensive inspection covers:

Food handling, storage, & equipment

Hygiene & sanitation

Water, plumbing, waste handling

Other physical facilities

Monitoring inspection covers:

Menu review to determine facility priority assessment

Critical control point plan (HACCP) compliance

Varies, depending on priority level:

High Priority (health care facilities and facilities where (1) food is prepared a day or more in advance of serving or (2) two or more food prep methods are used):

At least 3 times/yr (or 1 time/operating season if less than year-round)

1 comprehensive & 2 monitoring

Moderate Priority (facilities serve potentially hazardous food within 4 hours of preparation or held hot for more than 4 hrs.):

At least 2 times/yr

1 comprehensive & 1 monitoring

Low Priority (facilities serve commercially packaged foods directly to consumers or hand-dipped ice cream):

Comprehensive inspection every 2 yrs.

Temporary facility:

1 comprehensive during licensing period

Violations are misdemeanors

1st offense: fine up to $1,000, imprisonment up to 90 days, or both

2nd offense: fine up to $2,500, imprisonment up to 1 year, or both

Plus civil penalty up to $5,000 and possible license suspension or revocation

Inspection agency must make report available to public upon request

Some counties publish reports on-line


Health Dept., Div. of Environmental Health, Food Safety Center

Health Department or city or county health board that has a “delegation agreement” with the department

“Food Establishments” are operations that store, prepare, package, serve, vend, or otherwise provide food for human consumption.

Food establishment include:



Markets & groceries

Convenience stores

Special event food stands


Health care & other institutions

Vending machines

Retail bakeries


Food sources, handling, storage, & equipment

Employee health & hygiene

Water, plumbing, waste handling

Other physical facilities

Toxic supplies & application

Varies, depending on risk category (but delegated city or county boards can ask for alternate compliance methods):

High-risk (establishment serves potentially hazardous foods requiring extensive, on-site processing; prepares food several hours or days before serving; serves menu items with demonstrated potential for causing food-borne illness; or draws drinking water from surface supply)

At least once every 12 months

Medium-risk (establishment serves potentially hazardous foods but with minimal holding time between prep and serving or serves foods that require extensive handling followed by heat treatment (e.g., pizza))

At least every 18 months

Low-risk (not high- or medium risk establishment)

At least once every 24 months

No established schedule for mobile food units, food carts, and seasonal and special event stands

Up to $1,000 for each day a violation persists

Up to $10,000, one year in prison, or both for intentional or repeated violations

Unable to determine


Health & Senior Services Dept. (HSSD), Consumer & Environmental Health Services Div.

Local board of health or HSSD

“Retail food establishment”

Categorized (1-4) on basis of risk:

Type 1:

Convenience stores

Hot dog carts

Coffee shops

Type 2:

Retail food stores


Quick service operations

Type 3:

Full service restaurants

Catering operations


Commissaries (e.g., airlines)

Hospitals & nursing homes

Type 4:

Any of above that conducts specialized processes like smoking, curing, canning


Food handling

Equipment, utensils, linen

Water, plumbing, waste handling

Physical facilities

As often as inspecting agency deems necessary

$50 to $1,000 civil penalty for each offense

Establishment must post latest evaluation placard in conspicuous place near entrance

Establishment operator must keep inspection report on premises for public review


Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene

Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation; inspections done by public health sanitarians (PHS)

“Food service establishments” include restaurants, bakeries and “take-outs”

PHS evaluate an establishment's conditions and practices and identify risk factors for food-borne illnesses. These risk factors include:

Improper personal hygiene practices

Improper hand washing and bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods

Improper cooking, holding, and re-heating temperatures

Cross-contamination of food and food equipment

Food from unapproved sources

Unannounced annual inspection

Based on inspection, PHS can issue a notice of violation (“NOV”, administrative summons) for violations of NYC Health Code, State Sanitary Code, or other applicable law. NOV can result in monetary penalties as determined by department's administrative tribunal.

Available online at


Human Services Dept, Food, Pool, & Lodging Health & Safety Sec.

County public health authorities

“Food establishments” are operations that store, prepare, assemble, package, serve, vend, or otherwise provide food for human consumption

Food establishments include:

Restaurants, bars & taverns, coffee shops & snack bars,

B & Bs, motels

Private clubs


Senior centers

Vending machines

Hospitals (if open to public)


Operations in mobile or temporary establishments, whether or not they charge for food

School food services

Fraternal, social, religious organizations where food is prepared for public

Employee health & hygiene

Food sources & characteristics

Contamination prevention measures

Equipment, utensils, linens

Water, plumbing, waste

Physical facilities

Poisonous & toxic materials

At least every six months

Restaurant that fails to attain minimum acceptable inspection score must be inspected quarterly until it attains acceptable score for four consecutive quarters

Up to $1,250 or $2,500, depending on type of establishment

Up to $500 per day for failure to cease operations after being closed for not correcting critical violations

Dept. can impose civil penalties for some violations

Establishment must post notice of inspection compliance in public view at entrance

Some county authorities make inspection scores available on-line


Dept. of Health, Office of Food Protection

Authorized representative of Health Dept., with knowledge, skills, and ability to adequately perform inspections

“Food service establishment” is an operation that stores, prepares packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption.

Food establishments must obtain a permit from the Health Dept. to operate.

Inspections cover:

Food handling

Equipment, utensils and linens


Physical facilities

Employee hygiene

Water, plumbing, and waste

Toxic and poisonous materials

Dept. must prioritize and conduct inspections based on the food establishment's history of compliance with the RI Food Code and its potential as a “vector of food borne illness.”

Dept. must evaluate past performance, for (1) nonconformance with the Code or Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point Plan (HACCP Plan) requirements that are critical; (2) numerous or repeat violations of the Code or HACCP Plan requirements that are noncritical; and (3) complaints investigated and found valid.

Dept. must evaluate (1) the hazards associated with the particular foods prepared and stored; (2) the type of operation including the methods and extent of food storage, preparation, and service; (3) the number of people served; and (4) whether the population served is a highly susceptible population.

-For a critical item violation, the establishment must correct at time of inspection and implement corrective action; dept. can extend time up to 10 days.

-For a noncritical violation, the permit holder must correct by a date and time agreed to or specified by the dept., but no later than 90 days after inspection.

-For an imminent health hazard situation, the establishment must immediately discontinue operations.

-Dept. can deny, suspend, or revoke food establishment registration for just cause, including failure to comply with the federal, state, or local laws concerning food establishments.

Fine not exceeding $100 or prison term up to 3 months for first offense,

Fine not exceeding $200 or prison term up to 6 mos. For second offense

Fine not exceeding $500 or prison term up to one year for third and subsequent offenses.

Food safety inspection reports completed since January 2007 are available online for all retail establishments including restaurants, markets and health care facilities.


Vermont Department of Health, Division of Health Protection, Food and Lodging Program

State Board of Health through its duly authorized officers, inspectors, agents, or assistants.

This includes the local, state, or federal enforcement body or authorized representative having jurisdiction over the food establishment.

Dept. of Health licenses food service establishments.

“Food service establishment” is any place where food intended for individual service and consumption is routinely provided completely prepared.

Includes any such place regardless of whether consumption is on or off the premises and regardless of whether there is a charge for the food.

Based on a 44 item checklist, of which 13 are considered critical. “Critical” items are those areas where there is a high likelihood of illness if left uncorrected. These are weighed heavier in the inspection.

“Non-critical” items measure construction and overall cleanliness. To pass inspection, an establishment cannot have any critical items in violation.

At all reasonable times.

If inspection criteria not met (a certain score with no critical violations), the establishment is asked to voluntarily close until it can open again in full compliance.

Available online.