Skip to main content

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.

  • Contamination

    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.

  • Temperature control

    Foods that provide a good environment for the growth of the bacteria that cause food borne illness are called time/temperature control for safety (TCS)* foods. The bacteria grow quickly in "the danger zone," 41°F to 135°F of these foods. Therefore, these foods must be cooked to temperatures that will kill the bacteria, then kept hot (over 135°F) until served, or kept cold (under 41°F) until served.

    *TCS foods include meat, poultry, cooked starches, sliced melons, sprouts, fresh herb and garlic-in-oil mixtures, dairy products, cut leafy greens, cut tomatoes, and cooked produce

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.

About red and blue violations

Red (critical) violations

Red critical violations are food handling practices that, when not done properly, are most likely to lead to food-borne illnesses. These food handling practices include:

  • controlling temperature, such as cooking meats to the right temperature to kill food-borne disease germs, keeping food hot enough until it is served, and keeping food cold enough
  • cooling food properly, washing hands, and using utensils instead of bare hands on "ready to eat" food
  • storing food
  • serving practices

Blue (non-critical) violations

Blue critical violations are primarily maintenance and sanitation issues that are not likely to be the cause of a food-borne illness.

Each violation has a numerical value based on its risk of food-borne illness. Therefore, there are more points given for red critical violations than for blue violations. Whenever possible, violations found during the inspection are corrected immediately. Red critical items found during the inspection must be corrected immediately. Examples would be re-heating a food to 165° F, putting it into the refrigerator or discarding the food.