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Public Health - Seattle & King County

When and why Public Health closes a food establishment

Public Health - Seattle & King County helps the food establishment keep the risk of food borne illness low through education and inspections. There are 2 basic causes of food borne illness we want to protect against with safe food handling practices.

  1. Contamination of food by food workers' hands, other foods, or food preparation surfaces. This is why hand washing, no bare hand contact with ready to eat foods and the washing, rinsing and sanitizing of food preparation surfaces is vitally important.
  2. Temperature control: Foods that provide a good environment for the growth of the bacteria that cause food borne illness are called potentially hazardous foods. The bacteria grow quickly in "the danger zone," 41°F to 140°F of these foods. Therefore, these foods must be cooked to temperatures that will kill the bacteria, then kept hot (over 140°) until served, or kept cold (under 41°) until served.

There are some safe food handling practices that, if not done properly, are more likely to lead to food borne illnesses. The inspector specifically observes and documents these food handling practices during the inspection. If any of these most risky practices are not done properly, the establishment is given a red critical violation on the inspection, the risk is taken care of immediately, and the manager is taught the correct procedure or method. Based on the risk caused by the violation, a return inspection and education will be done. Finally, if a food establishment hasn't improved its practices after additional education and direction, the establishment will be closed.

Reasons for immediate closure of a food service establishment:

  • High score on the routine inspection*
  • Sewage backing up in kitchen and/or bathroom
  • No hot water/running water
  • Electricity goes out
  • Other imminent health hazards: broken refrigeration, damage caused by accidents or natural disasters, or when establishment is linked to a food borne illness outbreak
  • Other: No permit to be operating (The permit assures that they have met all of the structural & equipment requirements for the menu items they are going to serve); the owner/manager interferes with the inspector's ability to do her/his duties.

*The inspection is based on a 400 point system. The violations are added up between red and blue violations. If the total red critical violations is 90 or more, or the total of red and blue is 120 or more, then the establishment will be closed.