FAQs - Food Protection

Food Facility Owner/Operator FAQs

Q01:  How do I get a Permit for my restaurant or other food establishment?

A01:  An application and fee must be submitted to the Environmental Management Department (EMD) office prior to opening. If the food establishment is new or undergoing remodeling, contact the Environmental Health Plan Review Office at 916-874-6010 before the application is submitted.

For more information please see the EMD Selling Food in Sacramento County page.

Q02:  What does the inspector do when he/she goes out to a restaurant or grocery store? Does the facility know he/she is coming?

A02:  The Environmental Health Specialist has many things to do when conducting an inspection. Primarily, we inspect the food facility to determine if it complies with the requirements of the California Health and Safety Code (CHSC). Sometimes an inspection is confined to a specific problem resulting from a complaint, and at other times the inspection may be very comprehensive.

All inspections are conducted with the intent to observe conditions which may contribute to food-borne illness. All problems noted during the inspection are brought to the attention of the management and violations are pursued to correction.

The food facility does not usually know when the specialist will be conducting routine inspections or complaint investigations. Follow-up and permit inspections may be scheduled in advance.

Q03:  What does the Green ("Pass") placard in a restaurant mean?

A03:  Sacramento County requires food facilities to post a Green ("Pass"), Yellow ("Conditional Pass") or Red ("Closed") placard within 5 feet of the main entrance. The placard summarizes the results of the most recent inspection:

  • Green Placard ("Pass"): No more than one (1) major violation (corrected during the inspection) was observed. Minor violations, if any, are required to be corrected within the time frame indicated on the inspection report.
  • Yellow Placard ("Conditional Pass"): Two (2) or more major violations were observed that required immediate correction and a follow-up inspection that will be conducted within 24 to 72 hours.
  • Red Placard ("Closed"): Closure is required when an imminent danger to public health and safety is observed. Examples include surfacing sewage, no hot water, rodent/insect infestation, or severe unsanitary conditions.

For more information please visit the Food Placard Information page.

Q04:  What is the difference between a "Food Facility" and a "Restaurant"?

A04:  "Food Facility" means an operation that stores, prepares, packages, serves, vends, or otherwise provides food for human consumption at the retail level.

Food facilities include restaurants as well as markets, bakeries, liquor stores, bars, certified farmers' market, food service at fairs and festivals, catering trucks, hot dog carts, ice cream trucks, produce vehicles, and retail stores that sell prepackaged food. Any business that sells food for public consumption is considered a "food facility," of which restaurants are the most common examples.

Q05:  How often does the County inspect a restaurant?

05:  Food facilities that engage in food preparation are inspected three times a year. Some of the low-risk food facilities, such as markets and bars are inspected twice a year.

Q06:  Can I open a food business or prepare food for sale from my home?

06:  Food may not be prepared, stored, or sold from a private home unless permitted as a Cottage Food Operation. Please see the Cottage Food Operation (CFO) page for more information, including restrictions on the types of foods that can be prepared at home.

Q07:  Am I required to pass a food safety certification exam before I open a restaurant?

A07:  Any food facility that sells unpackaged food (such as a restaurant or bar); a mobile food preparation unit (such as a "taco truck" or "hot truck"); a stationary mobile food preparation unit (such as a food stand at a county fair); or a commissary, is required to have an owner or employee who has successfully passed an approved and accredited food safety certification examination.

Any of the above food facilities that commences operation, changes ownership, or no longer has a certified owner or employee has up to 60 days to have an owner or employee successfully pass (or hire someone that has already passed) an approved and accredited food safety certification examination. See list of organizations providing Accredited Food Safety Certification Exams .

Q08:  Are employees required to wear gloves in food facilities?

A08:  Gloves shall be worn when contacting food and food contact surfaces if the employee has any cuts, sores, rashes, artificial nails, nail polish, rings (other than a plain ring, such as a wedding band), uncleanable orthopedic support devices, or fingernails that are not clean, neatly trimmed and smooth. Whenever gloves are worn, they shall be changed, replaced, or washed as often as hand washing is required. When single-use gloves are used, they shall be replaced after removal.

Q09:  Are employees required to wear hairnets in restaurants?

A09:  All employees shall wear hairnets, caps, or other suitable coverings to confine all hair when required to prevent the contamination of food, equipment, or utensils.

Consumer Food Protection FAQs

Q10:  What do I do if I think I got sick from eating at a restaurant?

A10:  All suspected food poisoning and food-born illness complaints should be called in to 916-875-8440. You should call the department as soon as possible in order for the Environmental Health Specialist to complete a thorough investigation. Be sure you have the restaurant's name and a street address before calling. Also, consult with your doctor if your symptoms are severe and/or you want a definitive diagnosis.

Q11:  I think the employees in a restaurant I frequent are not being sanitary. What can I do?

A11:  Call 916-875-4311 or 311 or visit the Sacramento County 311 Connect on-line to to file a complaint service request. By describing what you witnessed and where, an inspector can investigate your complaint. The inspector will conduct an investigation and document any information noted from the visit.

Q12:  When cooking, what temperature should my food reach to be safe?

A12:  Foods that contain ground beef need to be cooked until the internal temperature is 155º F. Pork must be cooked until the internal temperature is 145º F. Poultry must be cooked until the internal temperature is 165º F.

Measuring the internal temperature with a metal-stemmed probe thermometer is the only safe way of determining when the product is done. Relying on the color of the meat juices is not always a reliable way of determining doneness.

Check the EMD Documents & Forms page for Food Handling Guideline documents

Q13:  How cold do I need to keep my refrigerator? How can I be sure it's cold enough? And, how long can I keep food in the refrigerator?

A13:  Your refrigerator should be kept between 35º and 41º Fahrenheit. The only sure way to determine the actual temperature of the refrigerator is to measure it with an accurate thermometer - do not rely on a thermostat control "number" as a reliable indication of temperature.

The length of time that foods stay fresh depends on the type of food and the temperature of the refrigerator. One good rule of thumb is, "When in doubt, throw it out!"

Q14:  I've heard about the "danger zone" - what is it exactly?

A14:  The "danger zone" for food preparation and storage is the temperature range where bacteria grow quickly. The "danger zone" is between 41º and 135ºF.

Q15:  What are the safest ways to thaw meat?

A15:  The safest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator. Be sure to place the frozen product in a pan or on a plate to prevent raw juices from leaking onto shelves. Place the thawing product on the lower most shelf in the refrigerator so that raw juices do not cross-contaminate clean vegetables and other ready-to-eat foods.

Another acceptable thawing method is to submerge under cold running water for not more than 2 hours. The water should be of sufficient velocity to flush food particles into the sink drain.

You can also safely thaw frozen foods in the microwave oven and then transfer the product to the stove for further cooking. You can also go directly to the cooking process if the product can be properly unwrapped. Check the EMD Documents & Forms page for Food Handling Guideline documents.

Q16:  How do I find out about inspections for a specific restaurant?

A16:  Each food facility inspected by Sacramento County is required to have its latest food inspection report available upon request, although it does not have to be posted. The food inspection report is issued to the operator or manager at the time of the inspection.

Current food inspection reports are available for review on the Food Facility Inspections web page.

Temporary Food Facilities / Community Event FAQs

Q17:  What is a temporary food facility?

A17:  A temporary food facility is a food facility operating out of temporary facilities, such as at a fair or street festival. The temporary food facility is at a fixed location for the duration of the approved community event. Temporary food facilities must be approved by this department. Please see the EMD Community Events page for more details.

Q18:  Do I need a health permit for temporary events?

A18:  Yes, when you serve food to the general public (either selling or giving away food), a permit is required.

Q19:  Can I have a temporary event permit applications mailed to me?
A19:  Yes. However it is best to call the Sacramento County Environmental Management Environmental Health division at 916-875-8440 and discuss specific permit requirements for your event prior to completing the application package. Also, please visit the EMD Community Events page for more information.

Q20:  Do I need to have an enclosed food booth?

A20:  Yes, unless you only have prepackaged food items.

Q21:  What kind of equipment can be placed outside the food booth?

A21:  A BBQ or any large flame cooking device. Check with your local fire department for more information. If the local fire department requires the equipment to be outside the booth, then we will allow it.

Q22:  What is the deadline to apply for a temporary event food booth permit?

A22:  Two weeks prior to the event.