Restaurant Temperature Logging: Here Is What Inspectors Want To See

There are few things that can raise your entire staff’s blood pressure like a health inspection or corporate audit, and for good reason. Food safety violations are a big hit on team morale and customer trust—and the most common critical health violations revolve around one core topic: food storage and temperature logging.

In a massive study of ~160,000 restaurants between 1993 and 2000, violations related to thermometer access in coolers were recorded over 69,500 times (43.5% occurrence rate). Other violations regarding food storage were found 69,000 times (43.1% occurrence rate).

Thankfully, there are simple ways restaurant operators can streamline their temperature logging processes and wow the next inspector who walks through the doors. 

The more units you have, the more essential these become.

We’ll walk through it all, including… 

  • The primary reasons temperature-related violations are so common
  • 3 ways you can get inspectors off your back about temperature monitoring
  • How to solve temperature problems before they arrive

Ready to nix temperature logging as a headache?

The Common Error Points in Restaurant Temperature Logging

Food storage and temperature logging violations can occur for a number of reasons, but these are the most common:

  • Cooler thermometers that aren’t easily accessible. According to most state guidelines, thermometers must be obvious and clearly visible. Thermometers hidden behind panels, covered by ingredients, or missing altogether signal a failure to properly monitor storage temperatures.
  • Employees skipping temperature recording tasks. Even if you have thermometers properly placed, it’s largely up to your employees to follow through on taking temperatures correctly. Many times they don’t (but you’re not likely to notice).
  • No system of responding to issues. When hot food storage equipment malfunctions or freezer doors are left open, you must act to resolve the problem. Without a clear, pre-planned system for identifying those failures and responding immediately, you’re vulnerable to longer-lasting issues that inspectors can see in the logbooks.

Next, let’s review the three items that inspectors want to see when they visit your restaurant. If you’re able to make a good impression on all three fronts, the upsides are significant:

  • You’ll build rapport with auditors
  • Inspections will go smoothly and quickly
  • Audit stress levels will plummet 
audit stress levels chart

This is great for an operator of one restaurant. For the multi-unit franchise owner who largely runs their business remotely, the benefits compound. 

Also Read: 3 Common Reasons Restaurants Fail Inspection

A Detailed, Consistent Temperature Logbook

The logbook is the core vital in any restaurant temperature monitoring system. When a health inspector or corporate auditor arrives, they want to discover that it is:

  • Available at a moment’s notice. If it takes fifteen minutes to drag the binder out from the back office or find the excel file on your computer, that’s a huge red flag.
  • Updated meticulously. Temperature readings for all your equipment—coolers, freezers, hot storage, etc—must be recorded like clockwork. Skipped readings will draw skepticism, and they’ll be obvious, since most franchises require 3-5 daily checks.
  • Maintained by more than one person. A single employee recording temperatures leaves no room for accountability (a problem we’ll cover next). Make sure multiple people are trained to record temperatures.

We’ve also heard anecdotal reports that inspectors across the industry are beginning to favor digital food safety systems with robust reporting, rather than manual logbooks. Physical binders are prone to spills, misplaced pages, and other issues you don’t encounter with digital records.

Proof That You’re Avoiding Dry Labbing (Fake Temperature Logs)

Inspectors are well-trained at reviewing logbook data. They’ve reviewed thousands, and they know how to spot dry labbing or pencil whipping when they see it.

Dry labbing is when data is recorded without being measured. Pencil whipping is when employees “whip” a checkmark to mark a task complete without actually doing the task.

To the trained inspector’s eye, there are a few easy tells that pencil whipping is happening in your restaurant:

  • A single employee manages the logbook. Any task completed by a single person over and over again will inevitably suffer from burnout, stress over time, or simple laziness. Without another person to check results, there’s no accountability—a bad sign.
  • Temperatures rarely, if ever, change. No cooler, freezer, heating area, or rethermalizer is perfectly consistent across weeks or months. If your logbook doesn’t reveal natural fluctuations over time, it’ll look as if employees are just copying the previous temperature over and over again.
  • One recorder has a copy-cat pattern. It’s not uncommon for one team member to faithfully record temperatures as expected, and another to follow the first person’s lead when it’s their turn. The copy-cat isn’t hard to spot.

Thankfully, there are practical ways you can stop employees from dry labbing. And although it may give the impression that your coolers or freezers fluctuate more in temperatures (usually only +/- 2 degrees or so), it’ll actually look more authentic and trustworthy to inspectors.

Auditors are especially happy when they see remote temperature monitoring systems. Digital thermometers in these systems automatically take temperatures regularly and send them to spreadsheets or digital food safety tools—no employee errors, dry labbing, or skipped tasks. 

To inspectors, remote temperature monitoring signals there’s no room for employee error, and that you’re on the ball when it comes to food safety.

A System for Correcting Equipment Problems

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was a landmark improvement in food safety and traceability, putting a greater emphasis on minimizing risk across the food supply chain, rather than reactively responding to errors and hazards. 

While most foodservice operations are exempt from FSMA’s most strict regulations, many enterprise chains have modeled aspects of their corporate food safety programs after the regulation, and there’s one element in particular that inspectors love to see: corrective actions.

Inspectors are used to seeing restaurants do the bare minimum with temperature monitoring, but having a clear corrective action system is a major boost in trust.

corrective action

With manual logbooks, corrective action systems are difficult to create. Employees have to recognize malfunctions as they occur and report the issue—in the heat of a regular shift, this isn’t likely to happen.

Here’s how the most effective corrective action systems function:

  • Step 1: Temperatures are monitored digitally. A bluetooth digital thermometer automatically measures, logs, and monitors temperatures at regular intervals.
  • Step 2: Alerts are triggered. When temperature and time thresholds have been reached, you’re alerted of a possible issue with your equipment.
  • Step 3: Corrective action takes place. Whoever responds to the error is prompted to note why it’s happening (mechanical error, door ajar) to indicate that the issue was addressed in real-time.
  • Step 4: Next steps are outlined. If another step is necessary to resolve the issue, that is noted into the system. Inspectors can later review if that corrective action was completed.

This is far beyond what the average restaurant operator does to monitor temperatures—but it should be the industry norm.

Automated temperature monitoring systems (1) run on their own, (2) are immune to dry labbing, (3) alert you to errors before you lose thousands of dollars of ingredients, and (4) are a great way to establish reliability during inspections.

For the owner of multiple franchise units, this systematic reliability is a no-brainer.

👉 Get started with remote temperature monitoring.