DHEC inspects more than 19,000 retail food establishments statewide and issues permits to new facilities prior to opening. Retail food establishments include operations such as restaurants, grocery stores, food trucks, schools and other institutions. Risk-based inspections are conducted at each establishment in the state annually or quarterly, based on an establishment's food processes and their compliance history.
DHEC also regulates food safety for dairy and manufactured food operations and shellfish harvesting areas to ensure that oysters, clams and mussels are safe for human consumption.
The agency also provides a wide variety of information and resources to help protect the public from potential food safety factors at home and while eating out.
What facilities are permitted under 61-25?
Restaurants, delis, school cafeterias, grocery stores, retail meat markets, bakeries, seafood markets and convenience stores and most instances where a member of the public can enter an establishment an order food. There are situations where a facility does not require a permit to serve food, they are laid out in the Permit Exemptions Fact Sheet.
A Risk-Based Inspection is an unannounced inspection that judges how a retail food establishment handles the five major risk factors related to employee behaviors and preparation practices. These five major risk factors are:
- Food Contact Equipment Cleanliness - Did the inspector see build up on equipment that comes into contact with food?
- Cooking Temperatures - Are foods being cooked or heated to temperatures within a safe range?
- Employee Health - Does the facility have a plan in place to require employees who are sick to stay home?
- Food Sources - Can the facility prove where all foods are coming from and are they coming from approved sources? (an exception would be raw, unprocessed produce from small farms, produce stands or farmers markets)
- Food Holding Temperatures - Were the foods maintained at safe hot or cold holding temperatures?
There are 5 types of Risk-Based Inspections that DHEC conducts of Retail Food Establishments:
- Permit Inspections – Conducted prior to a facility opening to the public.
- Routine Inspections – Unannounced and conducted on a frequency of one to four times a year depending on the facility Risk Category.
- Follow-up Inspections – Conducted within ten days of a Routine Inspection that requires follow-up verification.
- Food Safety Checks – Conducted as a response to a declared state of emergency event such as a hurricane or pandemic. Also conducted as a compliance assistance tool for operators who would like to have a non-graded food safety check between regulatory visits.
- Limited Scope Inspections – Conducted as part of the response to or recovery from a long lasting declared emergency event such as a pandemic. May also be used as a tool for validating active managerial control by the facility between graded routine inspections.
There are 4 possible Risk Categories; the higher the number, the greater the risk is for food-borne illness:
Risk Category 1 – Food preparation process with no cook step
- Sandwich shops and similar operations
- Coffee shops
- Hot dog operations
- Some fast food operations
Risk Category 2 – Food preparation for same-day service
- Retail food store operations and similar operations
- Schools that are not serving a highly susceptible population
- Some fast food operations
Risk Category 3 – Complex food preparation
- Full service restaurants with an extensive menu and handling of raw ingredients
Risk Category 4 – Establishments that conduct processing at the retail level or specialized processes
While it may seem that categories are assigned purely on the basis of the establishment type, this is only true for baseline category assignment. Establishments that would otherwise be placed in a lower category, based on their type, can be moved to a higher category if a history of inactive managerial control and a need for additional monitoring is documented. Similarly, establishments can be assigned a lower category if they have proven through historical documentation that they have achieved active managerial control of foodborne illness risk factors and/or have independent food safety auditing performed by a third party.
The Facility Category for an establishment can be found at the bottom of its inspection report under Inspection Report Information.
What is in an Inspection Report?
Facility Information – Includes basic information about the facility being inspected.
Audit Information – Includes information about the type of inspection being conducted (routine, follow-up, or permit), the inspection’s start and end time, and the name of the inspector who conducted the inspection.
Overall Score – The total score that the establishment achieved during the inspection.
Foodborne Illness Risk Factors & Interventions and Good Retail Practices – A list of items that an inspector looks for during an inspection. “In” means that an item is in compliance, “Out” means that an item is out of compliance, “Not observed” means that an item could not be evaluated because it was not observed at the time of inspection, “Not applicable” means that an item was not applicable to the facility, and “Corrected During Inspection” means that an item was out of compliance, but it was corrected during the inspection. Some items may include comments, which are notes made by the inspector at the time of the inspection.
Inspection Report Information – Includes information such as Facility Category (also known as its Risk Category), the establishment’s posted grade, and if a follow-up inspection is required.
Risk-Based Inspections are scored based on a 100 point scale. At the completion of the inspection, a letter grade is posted at each facility based on the calculated numerical score and the facility's past compliance history. There are circumstances and conditions outlined in 8-403.10 (G) under which the letter grade posted at a facility may differ from the numerical score of the most recent inspection.
Grade A - The retail food establishment earned more than 87 points. Food safety practices appeared to meet the requirements of 61-25.
Grade B - The retail food establishment earned 87-78 points. Food safety practices need improvement.
Grade C - The retail food establishment earned less than 78 points. Food safety practices need significant improvement.