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Environmental Public Health Division

Food Safety Program

The mission of Harris County’s food inspection program is to prevent foodborne illness and injury from occurring at retail food establishments in the areas of Harris County outside of the city limits of Houston.  This web portal provides the opportunity to share information that may assist you in your decision making regarding your food service choices.

What establishments are inspected?

Harris County permits and inspects all retail food establishments in the unincorporated areas of Harris County including 21 small cities incorporated within Harris County.  Retail food establishments are facilities that prepare, process, serve, and/or sell food and/or drink to the consumer.  All retail food facilities inspected by Harris County must meet food safety and sanitation requirements to obtain an annual food establishment permit.

Why are inspections and permitting important?

Specific physical facilities and equipment and food safety procedures are needed to insure safe and sanitary food to the public.  HCPHES inspects and permits retail food operations for compliance with physical requirements and food safety and sanitation practices.  Preparing any kind of food (desserts, candy, appetizers, etc.) in the home for sale is illegal.  Residential homes are not inspected by regulatory authorities to insure safe food handling practices.  Use the inspection results webpage to determine whether an establishment located within the unincorporated areas of Harris County or one of the cities listed below is inspected and permitted by HCPHES.  Call (713) 274-6300 to report suspected illegal sales of food.

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What geographical areas does Harris County inspect?

All unincorporated (not in a city) areas of the county as well as the cities of

Bunker Hill Jersey Village South Houston
Deer Park Katy Southside Place
El Lago La Porte Spring Valley
Galena Park Morgan’s Point Taylor Lake
Hunter's Creek Nassau Bay Tomball
Humble Piney Point Waller
Jacinto City Seabrook West University

Areas that do not have a Houston mailing address, but are not incorporated as a city such as Cypress and Spring are also inspected by Harris County.

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How often are Harris County’s food establishments inspected?

Food establishment inspections occur from one to twelve times per year, depending upon factors such as the type of food prepared, the method of preparation, the establishment’s violation history, and the amount of control the manager has over food operations.  A bar that does not prepare food will be inspected once a year while a full service restaurant with a good food safety and sanitation history will receive three or four inspections per year.

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What kinds of inspections does Harris County perform?

Inspections and investigations are grouped into different types:

  1. Routine – Routine inspections are thorough examinations of all food service operations that occur within a food establishment.   Inspectors look for compliance with state laws and regulations regarding the preparation, storage, and service of food; the cleaning and sanitizing of equipment, floors, walls, and other surfaces; employee hygienic practices; and water and sewage systems.
  2. Follow-up – Follow-up inspections are conducted when an inspection reveals substantial non-compliance with laws and regulations.  Examples of situations which trigger a follow-up inspection include a score of 15 demerits or higher or two or more violations that cannot be corrected immediately that are also considered major risk factors for foodborne illness.
  3. Permitting – A permitting inspection is a routine inspection that is conducted on an annual basis with the intention of issuing an application for a health permit. An establishment must exhibit compliance with food laws and regulations before a permit application is issued.  Non-profit food operations must exhibit compliance with food laws and regulations, but are exempt from the permit requirement.
  4. Pre-opening – A pre-opening inspection is conducted by specialized inspectors to insure that a new or extensively remodeled food establishment has everything necessary to begin preparing safe and sanitary food and that it has followed pre-approved plans regarding layout, structure, utilities, and equipment.
  5. Other– Other visits to an establishment may not require a facility inspection, but serve to provide advice upon the request of the establishment operator or to allow a quarantined piece of equipment back into service after repairs have been made.
  6. SV Follow-up – A supervised follow-up inspection is conducted when a supervisor accompanies a district inspector on a follow-up inspection for training or evaluation purposes or to provide guidance regarding a questionable practice or piece of equipment.
  7. Foodborne Illness Investigation An investigation is conducted when a consumer or a health care provider files a complaint of a suspected foodborne illness.  It is important to note that while the inspector may note deficiencies that could cause a foodborne illness, the source of the illness cannot be confirmed without laboratory testing of food samples and patient specimens. 
  8. Complaint investigation – An investigation is conducted when a complaint is received regarding the food handling or sanitation practices of the establishment.

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What do investigators look for?

Harris County has adopted the state’s rules for retail food establishments.  The rules cover all aspects of food safety designed to insure the safety of food offered to the consumer.  Select this link for a complete copy of the Texas Food Establishment Rules.  Violations of the state rules are grouped into critical and non-critical violations.

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What are critical and non-critical violations?

    Critical violations are violations that, if left uncorrected, are more likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination, illness, or an environmental public health hazard.   Examples of critical violations include improper cooking, cooling, or reheating of foods.  Ideally, an establishment should have no critical violations.  Establishments that are repeatedly and significantly out of compliance are given an inspection to issue a hearing notice for permit denial or revocation.

    Non-critical violations are not directly related to the cause of food contamination, illness or environmental hazards, but if left uncorrected, could lead to critical violations.  Examples of non-critical violations include burned out light bulbs, damaged ceiling tiles, and dirty floors. Although non-critical violations must be corrected, the inspectors focus on the correction of critical violations.

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What are the 5 Foodborne Illness Risk Factors?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the most significant factors that contribute to foodborne illness in retail food establishments. The foodborne illness risk factors are:
  • Food from unsafe sources
  • Inadequate cooking
  • Improper holding temperatures
  • Contaminated equipment
  • Poor personal hygiene
Violations which involve one of the five major foodborne risk factors are designated by an asterisk in the online inspection report. 

Emphasis during routine inspections is placed on the establishment’s active managerial control over the five risk factors.  Active managerial control refers to basic management principles that should be used in day to day operations.  Examples of active managerial control are:  monitoring procedures, record keeping, an employee health policy restricting or excluding ill employees, and manager and employee training.  

More information regarding the foodborne illness risk factors may be found at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/RetailFoodProtection/FoodborneIllnessandRiskFactorReduction/ucm122832.htm

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How are inspection reports graded or scored?

All critical violations are assigned a demerit value of 3, 4, or 5 points.  Each critical violation is marked only once although there may be multiple instances of the same item.  The demerits are totaled for a final score.  A perfect score is 0 while a score of 15 or higher automatically requires a follow-up inspection and a citation.  Non-critical violations are documented on the report, but are not assigned a demerit value. 

It is important to read the violation descriptions to understand the conditions seen by the inspector during the time of the inspection.  The total score alone may not provide sufficient information.   For example, failure to cook meat to the proper temperature (5 demerits) and failure to wash hands properly (4 demerits), two violations that are considered major risk factors for foodborne illness, will yield a score of 9 demerits.  However, three violations not considered major foodborne illness risk factors, such as failure to renew a food establishment permit (3 demerits), failure to calibrate a thermometer (3 demerits), and failure to label a chemical spray bottle (3 demerits) will also yield a total score of 9 demerits.

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What does COS mean?

A violation that is marked as COS (corrected on site) is a violation that has been corrected during the inspection.  Inspectors urge food establishment operators to correct as many violations during the inspection as possible.  Violations that are corrected on site are still given a demerit value and are factored into the total score.

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What enforcement actions are taken?

  • Red tags – Inspectors may place a piece of equipment out of service by affixing a  red tag to a piece of equipment that could cause a health hazard such a rusty meat slicer that cannot be effectively cleaned and sanitized or a dish machine that is not dispensing adequate amounts of sanitizer.  The red tag remains on the equipment until the inspector confirms that the equipment has been sufficiently repaired.
  • Citations Inspectors may issue a citation (ticket) for operating without a valid permit, operating under unsanitary conditions such as serious, repeated or multiple violations, or operating during an imminent public health hazard such as sewage back up in the kitchen.  (The establishment will also be asked to cease food operations if an imminent public health hazard exists.)

  • Closures  A food establishment will be required to discontinue operations in instances where an imminent public health hazard exists because of an emergency such as a fire, flood, and extended interruption of electrical or water service, sewage back up, or other conditions that may endanger public health.

  • Other administrative actions  In rare cases, when citations or closures are ineffective, a temporary court injunction to cease operations or a hearing to deny, suspend, or revoke a food establishment permit may be imposed.

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What kind of training must retail food operators have?
Harris County requires a manager trained in food safety to be on duty during all hours of operation.  Establishments that do not prepare or package food and handle only prepackaged food are exempt from this requirement.  State law also exempts day care centers from the trained food manager requirement. City of Houston training and training approved by the Texas Department of State Health Services is also accepted.

For more information on approved classes may be found at: http://www.hcphes.org/eph/certreqsweb.htm

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Please help us keep retail food establishments in unincorporated Harris County clean and safe.

Most food establishments realize that it is in their best interest to provide safe and sanitary food to the consumer.   Our food inspectors’ job is to make sure that the food safety regulations are followed by the establishment.  But our inspectors cannot be at a food establishment all the time.  Therefore, if you have a concern regarding a food establishment’s operations or believe you and/or others have become ill from eating food obtained at an establishment or at an event, please contact us.  By investigating your concerns, Harris County may be able to prevent future outbreaks of foodborne illness.   If you need to contact a physician, please do so before calling us. 

If you believe you have become ill from ingesting food from an establishment in unincorporated Harris County or in a city inspected by Harris County, please file a complaint at HCPHES Environmental Health Services Division or call us at (713) 274-6300.

If you are concerned about a food establishment’s operations such as cleanliness, food handling procedures, etc., please file a complaint at Environmental Public Health Home  or contact us at (713) 274-6300.

If you have a foodborne illness complaint or other complaint regarding a food establishment located outside Harris County or if the establishment is located in a city not inspected by Harris County, please contact the local health department in that location.

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How do I view inspection results for a particular establishment under Harris County’s jurisdiction?

This website provides food inspection information for all establishments that are currently open and operating under Harris County’s jurisdiction.  The food inspection information provided on the website reflects the information that is captured in a database.  To view an inspection report, please call (713) 274-6300 for information on filing an Open Records Request.

Harris County Food Safety Program Inspection Results

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Last updated:  June 20, 2013 
Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services
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Houston, TX 77027
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