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Information from TN Dept of Health about the Ongoing Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Health Inspections

To protect the health and prosperity of people who live, work, study or visit Tennessee, the state Department of Health requires some businesses to have a license, certificate or permit to operate.  The Office of Health Care Facilities licenses or certifies many types of health care facilities including hospitals, adult care homes, nursing homes, and laboratories.  The Division of Environmental Health issues permits to food service establishments, hotels and motels, bed and breakfasts, organized camps, swimming pools and tattoo and body piercing artists. 

The Tennessee Department of Health’s county and metropolitan health departments have a critical role in ensuring places are kept clean for the public.  Over the course of a year, Environmental Health Specialists perform about 100,000 inspections in 45,000 facilities to maintain the health and safety of people living, working, studying and playing across Tennessee.

photo of clean food service area

How are restaurants inspected?

Environmental Health Specialists from our county health departments inspect establishments where food and beverages are prepared and served at least two times per year.  The most recent inspection score is required to be posted in a prominent location where it can be seen.  Look for a yellow inspection form with a numeric score.  Generally, the higher the score the better.  Inspections finding risk factors will have a follow-up inspection.  Food service establishment scores can be viewed online.

A wide variety of food service establishments are inspected such as restaurants, bars, school cafeterias, food trucks and temporary food vendors.  When an inspection is performed, the Environmental Health Specialist carefully looks for risk factors that could lead to foodborne illness.  Pointing out violations to food service establishments allows potentially unhealthy conditions to be corrected.  Often times a follow-up inspection is performed to make sure all risk factors have been eliminated.

The Tennessee Division of Environmental Health is responsible for the investigation of food service establishment complaints.  If you have a food safety concern or feel you might have gotten a foodborne illness from an establishment in Tennessee, please call our Restaurant Complaint and Foodborne Illness Hotline at 800-293-8228.

What is the Food Code?

The food code is the laws and rules that food service establishments must operate by to protect the public’s health.  The Division of Environmental Health maintains procedures for employee health, bare hand contact, cooling, dating and other operations about food safety and cleanliness.  These procedures and other guidance are available online in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

How are hotels and motels inspected?

Hotels and motels that rent rooms by the night are inspected by the Department of Health.  Environmental Health Specialists from the county health department inspect every hotel at least twice per year.  Inspections check water, sewage, sanitation, fire safety and other aspects of compliance.  Inspections are performed about the hotel or motel in general and not within each room.  More information is available on the Tennessee Division of Environmental Health’s webpage.  Longer-term rentals such as extended stays are not regulated by Health and therefore not inspected by Health.  Any rental with a lease agreement like apartments are also not regulated by Health and not inspected by Health.

What about bed and breakfasts?

Bed and Breakfasts are inspected twice per year by the Department of Health.  Bed and breakfast establishments are defined as private home, inn or other unique residential facility offering bed and breakfast accommodations and only one daily meal and having four to twelve guest rooms furnished for pay.  Guests stay no more than fourteen days, and the innkeeper resides on the premises or property or immediately adjacent to it.  Longer-term rentals such as cabins or chalets are not regulated by Health and therefore not inspected.

How are public swimming pools inspected?

Public swimming pools are inspected at least once per month during operational months.  Environmental Health Specialists check physical features, water quality and safety.  Not every swimming pool is inspected by the health department.  Only pools open to the public are inspected; private pools are not inspected.  As a type of pool, public hot tubs are also inspected.  Find more information on the Tennessee Division of Environmental Health’s webpage.

How about child care inspections?

Child care services and facilities are licensed and regulated by the Tennessee Department of Human Services.  Child care facilities as well as their food service operations are inspected by the Tennessee Department of Health.  Local health department Environmental Health Specialists inspect once per year checking for sanitation and safety requirements; food service is inspected twice per year.  Also visit kidcentraltn.com – Tennessee's one-stop shop for children's health, education, development and support.

How are tattoo parlors inspected?

The Tennessee Division of Environmental Health licenses tattoo artists and body piercing establishments.  Environmental Health Specialists inspect tattoo establishments four times per year and body piercing establishments once per year.  Their inspections check equipment, water, sewage, ventilation and other sanitary aspects of the facilities.

How are health care facilities inspected?

The Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Health Care Facilities is responsible for ensuring quality of care in hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory surgical treatment centers and other kinds of health care facilities.  Health care facilities inspections check for proper infection control, waste disposal, sanitation, food, facilities and other aspects of operating a health care facility.  The Office of Health Care Facilities investigates facility complaints submitted through their websitemailable form, or toll-free hotline 1-877-287-0010.

What does Agriculture inspect?

Some places are inspected by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Consumer and Industry Services Division.  Retail establishments like grocery stores, gas stations, big box stores and convenience stores that sell food are often inspected by Agriculture not Health.  Tennessee's over 9,500 retail establishments that sell food are required by state law to be inspected at least once every six months to insure compliance with all laws and regulations relating to food storage, facility sanitation and safety.  Inspectors perform retail food store inspections at random intervals to ensure the public is protected.  Compliance standards include food protection and temperature, employee hygiene, toilet and hand washing facilities, waste disposal, pest control, and cleaning and sanitizing.  Food store inspection scores are available online.  For more information about the Department of Agriculture’s food store inspection program or to register a complaint about food store sanitation and food safety, call Agriculture toll-free at 800-628-2631.

Government partners

Tennessee Department of Agriculture (Ag)
Food Safety

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Food Safety
www.cdc.gov/foodsafety
Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net)
www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/ehsnet
National Environmental Assessment Reporting System (NEARS)
www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/nears

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Food
www.fda.gov/Food/

Additional resources

National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) 
Food Safety
www.neha.org/eh-topics/food-safety-0