Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
About Ottawa County
- What types of businesses do you inspect?
- What is an environmental health specialist?
- How many environmental health specialists work for the Ottawa County Food Team?
- How do I become a health inspector?
- Do I need a license?
- I’m only serving food at private events (e.g., open houses, family parties, and weddings). Do I need a license? Do you license people (e.g., caterers)?
- Can I use someone else’s license?
- How do I get a license for my restaurant?
- I just bought a business-what are my next steps?
- How often is a food service establishment inspected?
- What law(s) must food establishments follow?
- Are all violations the same?
- What happens if a food service establishment has violations?
- What are the most common types of violations?
- I ate at an establishment that was disgusting and dirty! Does the health department know about this? How are they still operating?
- When does the health department close a restaurant?
For more information on food service establishment reports, licensing, or food safety, please call: Ottawa County Department of Public Health Environmental Health Services at (616) 393-5645.
About Ottawa County
What types of businesses do you inspect?
- Restaurants & Bars
- Coffee, Donut, or Ice Cream Shops
- Catering Kitchens
- School Cafeterias or Concession Stands
- Factory Cafeterias
The food team does not inspect retail food establishments. These establishments may be inspected by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) or federal agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Some examples of facilities that are NOT inspected by Ottawa County include:
If a facility does food service and retail food, the inspecting agency is based on the majority of sales. If more than 50% of sales come from food service, OCDPH inspects all aspects of the facility. If more than 50% of sales come from retail sales, MDARD inspects the facility.
Click here for more information about food service establishments or contact OCDPH for assistance with determining which type of license is needed (616) 393-5645.
An environmental health specialist is responsible for monitoring and enforcing local, state, and federal regulations pertaining to environmental conditions. Food team specialists focus on the safety and sanitation of food and drink items.
There are five environmental health specialists on the Food Team. Each EHS is generally assigned specific establishments to inspect based on their location.
If you are interested in applying for a position as an environmental health specialist, please visit Ottawa County Employment Opportunities. Any available employment opportunities with our department will be posted there.
If you are serving food or drink to the public, you need a license. Per Act 92 of 2000, as amended, the following establishments are exempt from Food Service licensure in Michigan:
- A hotel, motel, or bed and breakfast that serves continental breakfasts only. Click Here for more information about continental breakfasts.
- A bed and breakfast that has 10 or less sleeping rooms for rent.
- A child care organization, unless the establishment is operating in a way that is considered by the director to be food service.
- Cottage Food Operation
- A person offering whole, uncut fresh fruits and vegetables directly to consumers.
- A temporary food establishment with no food preparation using only single-service articles and serving only pre-packaged, non-potentially hazardous food or beverage.
- Ice cream trucks that offer only prepackaged, single-serving frozen desserts.
- Feeding operations in response to a disaster.
- Non-profit organizations serving home prepared food in conjunction with a fundraiser.
- Churches serving food to a closed group within the church (e.g., deacons, church choir, or a specific committee). If you can bring a friend, it’s not exempt.
All other facilities serving food to the public require a license. Please be aware - if you are not exempt, there is a $500 civil citation issued for operating without a license. If you have questions about whether or not your facility or event is exempt from licensure, please call OCDPH at (616) 393-5645.
Yes. These events are closed but are not private; unless they are only for your own family, friends, or co-workers. A license is not required if the private event is for your family, friends, or co-workers (e.g., a mom cooking an open house meal or an uncle cooking for a wedding).
This question is answered on a case-by-case basis. Please call OCDPH at (616) 393-5645.
Please visit the Plan Review Packet for more information about licensing restaurants.
You may qualify for a Change of Ownership inspection instead of a full plan review with inspection. Contact OCDPH to determine if you qualify. By law, a 30 day notice is required prior to a change of ownership. Licenses are not transferrable between owners.
If approved, you will need to submit the change of ownership paperwork and fee and a license application with the license fee. The inspector will then schedule a change of ownership inspection. Approval to operate may be granted at the change of ownership inspection, depending on the nature of any violations observed. Please note: this process is typically reserved for chain establishments that do not change procedures when changing owners.
I just bought an existing business. I’m keeping everything the same except for _____. Can I complete the Change of Ownership packet?
If you are changing the business in any way, you must go through a plan review process. Please visit the Plan Review Packet.
All food service establishments have regular routine inspections. Inspections are once every six months for year round establishments and schools. Seasonal establishments (nine or less months of operation per year) are inspected once per year. Routine inspections through Ottawa County are generally unannounced. One or more follow-up inspections may take place shortly after a routine inspection to verify correction of violations.
All food service establishments in Michigan must comply with the Michigan Food Law, Act 92 of 2000, as amended. The Michigan Food Law adopted the FDA Food Code of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as the sanitation standard for all Michigan food establishments. The specific edition of the Food Code may change over time as changes are made to Act 92. Refer to Act 92 to reference which version of the Food Code is currently adopted.
There are three categories of Food Code violations – priority violations, priority foundation violations and core violations. Inspectors also cite Michigan Food Law violations.
Priority Violations – The highest risk violations which are directly related to an increased risk of foodborne illness. Examples – improper handwashing, unsafe food temperatures
Priority Foundation Violations – Violations that can create a high risk (Priority) violation. Examples – lack of soap at a hand sink, no calibrated thermometer, no test strips to test sanitizer levels
Core Violations – Lower risk violations. Examples – general cleaning and maintenance of facilities (floors, walls, ceilings)
Michigan Food Law Violations – Cited separately from Food Code violations. These are state-specific requirement. Examples – Certified manager, license hanging in a conspicuous place
An environmental health specialist works with the Person in Charge (PIC) at an establishment to correct as many violations as possible at the time of the inspection. If that is not possible, Priority and Priority Foundation violations must be corrected before the follow-up inspection (typically 7-10 days). In some instances, a PIC can also send a proof of correction via email or fax and there is no longer a need for a follow-up inspection. Core violations should be corrected by the date indicated on the report
Some of the most common violations are…
If you have concerns about the cleanliness of an establishment, please contact OCDPH. All complaints are confidential. Your information will not be shared with the establishment.
Environmental health specialists regularly inspect all restaurants. Restaurants that have a build-up of food debris on the floors, walls, and/or ceiling have likely been cited for this violation at routine inspections. Check out our online restaurant inspections for more information.
Facility cleaning is a Core (low risk) Violation. Thus, the facility will not be closed for chronic facility cleaning violations. The facility is issued $255 civil citation after the violation is cited at 4 consecutive inspections (2-4 years). This violation doubles at each inspection if it remains uncorrected.
There are two ways in which the health department orders the closure of a restaurant.
Chronic Repeat Violations
A restaurant with chronic repeat violations will qualify for enforcement. If violations are not cited at the subsequent enforcement and/or routine inspections, the establishment will not progress in enforcement. The steps of enforcement include:
- Compliance Conference
- Administrative Consultation
- Informal Hearing
- Formal Hearing to Appeal Revocations
- Civil Citations
OCDPH reserves the right to take any of the above actions at any time in order to ensure the safety of food being served to residents and visitors of Ottawa County.
Imminent Health Hazard
If an imminent health hazard is found, a restaurant is immediately and temporarily closed. They are not required to publicize their reason for closure. They may reopen after a follow-up inspection proves the hazard is eliminated. Imminent health hazards are situations in which the public may be in immediate danger. Examples include:
- Lack of water or electrical power
- No hot water
- Back-up of sewage in the kitchen
- Severe pest infection
- A significant number of priority and priority foundation violations
- Food borne illness outbreak