Residents and visitors have thousands of places to choose from when they want to eat out in Westchester. Restaurants, cafes and other eateries that prepare food on site receive regular inspections by the health department to help ensure that your meal is prepared and cooked safely. So whether you plan to dine out at a restaurant, grab a quick bite from a hot dog truck or a fast food chain, or have your child buy lunch at your school cafeteria, we’ve got you covered.
Health inspectors, who are known as sanitarians, ensure that safeguards are in place to protect food from contamination, both by the people who handle the food as well as from other sources. During a visit, health inspectors look to see that employees regularly wash their hands in a sink that has soap, hot water and paper towels; that utensils and surfaces that come in contact with raw meat are not used to prepare ready-to-eat foods; that foods are kept at the appropriate temperature and that rodents and other pests are not present.
View Inspection Reports Online
Health inspectors prepare a written report whenever they inspect a food service establishment. These inspection reports can be viewed online at New York State Department of Health/Health Data. Within the reports, there are sections available for the inspector to list critical and non-critical violations. It’s helpful to know that a
• Critical Violation - is a violation that relates directly to factors which may lead to food borne illness
• Non-Critical Violation - is a violation that relates to maintenance and cleanliness of food Service operations
Food service establishments that are considered high-risk are generally inspected twice a year. High-risk establishments are full service, dine-in restaurants that prepare and cook large quantities of raw food on site. Establishments that are considered medium-risk and low-risk are inspected once annually. Medium-risk establishments are those that serve mostly commercially prepared food and are typically fast food chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King. Low-risk establishments are those that have limited or no food preparation on site, like ice cream shops and bars. Critical violations are corrected at the time of inspection and non-critical violations are given a re-inspection date and must be corrected by that time.
Report a Food Borne Complaint or Illness
All complaints concerning improper food handling, poor sanitary practices or food borne illness related to food service establishments in Westchester County will be investigated by the health department. If you would like to file a complaint about a food service establishment, please call (914) 813-5000.
Supermarkets and Convenience Stores
Some establishments, such as supermarkets and convenience stores, are not regulated by the health department. For more information or to make a complaint about these types of establishments, contact the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets or call (800) 554-4501.
Calorie Posting and Allergy Notice
In Westchester County, all chain restaurants are required to count calories for you and post them on their menus and menu boards. In addition, all restaurant menus and menu boards must also include an allergy notice to remind you to speak to the owner, manager, chef or server if you have a food allergy. These calorie counts and allergy notification postings allow you to make the best informed decisions about what you choose to eat when you dine out.
Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing foodborne illness.
Many harmful germs can survive for several hours on kitchen surfaces. Reduce your risk of illness by keeping cutting boards, countertops, utensils, dishcloths, and towels clean. Don’t use sponges in the kitchen. They tend to collect small food particles and are difficult to clean.
Use a weak chlorine bleach solution (2 teaspoons of bleach per quart of water) as a kitchen sanitizer. You may want to keep a supply of this solution in a spray bottle near the sink.
Tips for a safe and sanitary kitchen
If you're like most people, you're probably confused about trans fats. Which foods have them, and which don't? Which are the worst foods, which are the best?
1. Spreads. Margarine - it's loaded with trans fats and saturated fats, both of which can lead to heart disease.
Tip: Look for soft-tub margarine, because it is less likely to have trans fat. Some margarines already say that on the packaging.
2. Packaged Foods. Cake mixes, Bisquick, and other mixes all have several grams of trans fat per serving.
Tip: Add flour and baking powder to your grocery list; do-it-yourself baking is about your only option right now.
3. Soups. Ramen noodles and soup cups contain very high levels of trans fat.
Tip: Get out the crock-pot and recipe book or try the fat-free and reduced-fat canned soups.
4. Fast Food. Bad news here: Fries, chicken, and other foods are deep-fried in partially hydrogenated oil. Even if the chains use liquid oil, fries are sometimes partially fried in trans fat before they're shipped to the restaurant. Pancakes and grilled sandwiches also have some trans fat, from margarine slathered on the grill.
Tip: Order your meat broiled or baked. Skip the pie. Forget the biscuit. Skip the fries -- or share them with many friends.
5. Frozen Food. Those yummy frozen pies, pot pies, waffles, pizzas, even breaded fish sticks contain trans fat. Even if the label says it's low-fat, it still has trans fat.
Tip: In frozen foods, baked is always heart-healthier than breaded. Even vegetable pizzas aren't flawless; they likely have trans fat in the dough. Pot pies are often loaded with too much saturated fat, even if they have no trans fat, so forget about it.
6. Baked Goods. Even worse news -- more trans fats are used in commercially baked products than any other foods. Doughnuts contain shortening in the dough and are cooked in trans fat. Cookies and cakes (with shortening-based frostings) from supermarket bakeries have plenty of trans fat.
Tip: Get back to old-fashioned home cooking again.
7. Chips and Crackers. Shortening provides crispy texture. Even "reduced fat" brands can still have trans fat. Anything fried (like potato chips and corn chips) or buttery crackers have trans fat.
Tip: Think pretzels, toast, pita bread.
8. Breakfast Food. Breakfast cereal and energy bars are quick-fix, highly processed products that contain trans fats, even those that claim to be "healthy."
Tip: Whole-wheat toast, bagels, and many cereals don't have much fat. Cereals with nuts do contain fat, but it's healthy fat.
9. Cookies and Candy. Look at the labels; some have higher fat content than others. A chocolate bar with nuts -- or a cookie -- is likely to have more trans fat than gummy bears.
Tip: Gummy bears or jelly beans win, hands down. If you must have chocolate, get dark chocolate -- since it's been shown to have redeeming heart-healthy virtues.
10. Toppings and Dips. Nondairy creamers and flavored coffees, whipped toppings, bean dips, gravy mixes, and salad dressings contain lots of trans fat.
Tip: Use skim milk or powdered nonfat dry milk in coffee. Keep an eye out for fat-free products of all types. As for salad dressings, choose fat-free there, too -- or opt for old-fashioned oil-and-vinegar dressing. Natural oils such as olive oil and canola oil don't contain trans fat.
The holidays are a time for sharing festive meals with family and friends. With so many details to remember, these important tips can help you prepare and cook food safely year-round to keep your kitchen healthy and your food safe.
Home chefs should apply these four "easy to remember" tips — Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill — into practice in order to be food safe during the holiday.
Wash hands, surfaces and utensils often to avoid spreading bacteria when preparing food. Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of foodborne illness.
Use different cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, seafood and veggies. When you prepare Thanksgiving dinner, keep the raw turkey away from vegetable and side dishes that won't be cooked.
You can't tell it's done by how it looks! Use a food thermometer. Every part of the turkey should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep the fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to keep bacteria from growing. Pumpkin pie should always be refrigerated and leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours
If you buy a frozen turkey, plan to thaw it in the refrigerator for a few days. Never defrost a turkey at room temperature or bacteria will multiply rapidly. Allow 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey. It's best to thaw your turkey on the bottom shelf to keep juices from dripping onto other foods.
Read on to learn more about the turkey trot from store to table—buying fresh vs. frozen, safe thawing methods, stuffing, roasting, storing leftover turkey and reheating the leftovers.
When cooking poultry, use a food thermometer to ensure the thickest part of the bird reaches a temperature of 165 °F to destroy bacteria and prevent foodborne illness.
It is safer to cook stuffing separately in its own pan.
The Meat and Poultry Hotline is staffed Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time, year-round. It will be available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thanksgiving Day. Consumers are encouraged to contact the Hotline at (888) MPHotline or (888)674-6854.
Restaurant managers have a lot on their plates, but food safety can be second to none when running a food service establishment. That’s why the Westchester County Department of Health is helping restaurateurs keep their customers safe by providing them with opportunities to learn how to protect the food they serve from intentional contamination.
Thanks to funding from a grant awarded by the Food and Drug Administration, the Health Department offered a free Food Defense Workshop that was attended by nearly 30 food service professionals. Strategies to assure the safety of food supplies, deliveries and storage, as well as how to identify and report suspected problems were all part of the keynote presentation.
Public health sanitarians aim to promote healthy people and communities through education and regulation of food service establishments.
Did you know that there are about 4,000 establishments serving food in Westchester County, including restaurants, mobile food carts and deli's? The Westchester County Health Department inspects these establishments and those inspections can be viewed and downloaded.
State and county sanitary codes are enforced by public health sanitarians to ensure that the public is served food that is healthy and safely prepared. Restaurants and mobile food vendors receive unannounced inspections routinely throughout the year. Random samples of milk, frozen desserts and utensils are taken to find and correct possible food contamination.
Working with public health nurses and physicians, sanitarians promptly investigate incidents of suspected foodborne disease. Public health sanitarians also respond to fires involving food service establishments. As a result of fire damage, sanitarians may order food products to be condemned or destroyed.
All food service establishments must be aware of the Food Allergy Notification Law. Restaurants can download the pre-set Food Allergy Labels, print or copy onto label sheets and apply to printed menus.
Restaurateurs who want to perform major renovation or construction of food service establishments must have their proposed plans approved first to assure that appropriate equipment and procedures are in place.
Food service owners and operators attend a Food Handler's Training course designed and developed by this department. Since the course began in 1985, thousands of food service operators have attended intensive classes, presented in cooperation with Westchester Community College.
The Health Department is active in assuring that mass gatherings and public functions maintain safe and healthful conditions.
Important Phone Numbers
Food Service Establishment Regulations and Laws
Food Safety Handlers Course
Please contact George Vaselekos, Principal Sanitarian at 914-864-7294 for the most up to date information regarding current Food Handler Course Schedules/ Registration Forms offered thru Westchester Community College.