Environmental Public Health Division
Frequently Asked Questions
The Environmental Public Health
Division of Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services
(HCPHES) is responsible for the approximately 6,900 retail food
establishments located within the unincorporated areas of the
county as well as 21 cities that do not have their own health
department. Retail food establishments include restaurants, fast
food outlets, grocery stories, conveniences stores, bars, day
cares, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, bakeries, temporary
events, and mobile food units. With the exception of
convenience stores that do not prepare or serve food, each of
these establishments is required to have a manager on duty who
is trained in sanitation and safe food handling procedures. In
addition, HCPHES investigators inspect food establishments
several times each year and, if requested, will offer an
educational session for food service workers.
What laws and regulations does
Harris County Commissioner's Court adopted the Texas Food
Establishment Rules (TFER) in June 1999. Operation of the food
inspection program is also governed by the Texas Health and
Safety Code. Unlike the City of Houston, Harris County may not
pass ordinances that exceed state requirements or laws.
Who does HCPHES serve?
HCPHES inspects and
permits all retail food establishments in the unincorporated
areas of Harris County as well as in the cities of Tomball,
Katy, Jacinto City, Galena Park, LaPorte, Morgan's Point, South
Houston, Seabrook, El Lago, Southside Place, Hunter's Creek,
Piney Point, Bunker Hill, Jersey Village, Spring Valley, Deer
Park, Humble, Waller, and West University Place.
How frequently is a food
Inspection frequency is based on
a risk assessment conducted in conjunction with the annual
permitting inspection. Risk assessments determine the
likelihood of a food establishment causing a foodborne
illness. Criteria utilized for the risk assessment are: type
of food processed or prepared, method of food preparation,
population served (young children, infirm, elderly), number of
customers, past sanitation and food safety history, and whether
food manager's certification requirements are met.
Establishments are categorized from very high to very low risk.
Inspection frequency ranges from 12 times per year for very high
risk establishments to 1 time per year for very low risk
What is a foodborne illness?
illness is caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages.
There are more than 250 different foodborne diseases, most of
which are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and
parasites. The most common foodborne diseases are caused by
Campylobacter, Salmonella, E-coli bacteria and Norwalk virus.
Other common diseases are occasionally foodborne. These are
caused by shigella bacteria, hepatitis A virus, and the
parasites Giardia and Cryptosporidia. Toxins produced by
certain bacteria can also cause foodborne illness (botulism.) In
addition, poisonous chemicals or other harmful substances can
cause foodborne illnesses (for example, poisonous mushrooms and
poisonous reef fishes.)
How do I file a foodborne illness
complaint against a restaurant or other retail food
you believe you have become ill from eating at a restaurant or
other food establishment, contact your local health department.
The health department is an important part of the food safety
system. Often calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks
are first discovered. For establishments in
unincorporated Harris County or any of the cities listed above,
please call (713) 274-6300 or report online at
How do I file a complaint
regarding sanitary conditions at a restaurant or other retail
To report dirty conditions or
unsafe food handling practices at a restaurant or other food
establishment, call (713) 274-6300 or report online at
Food Safety Information
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Last updated: January 16, 2013
Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services
2223 West Loop South
Houston, TX 77027
Tel: (713) 439-6000