Frequently Asked Questions
How often are restaurants inspected?

Food establishments in Iowa, including restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores, are required by law to be inspected twice a year or on a risk-based inspection frequency.  Under a risk-based inspection process, those establishments that prepare a wide variety of food items on a daily basis and serve them to a great many consumers are inspected up to three times a year.  Convenience stores that sell prepackaged food items, such as packaged sandwiches and potato chips, are required to be inspected once per year.

Who conducts restaurant inspections in my area of the state?

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA) is responsible for administering and enforcing the state’s food inspection system.  Over time, the Department has entered into contracts with 30 local health departments to license and inspect food establishments in 79 counties and five municipalities in the state.  State inspectors license and inspect food establishments in 20 counties not covered by local health departments.  To find out which health department is responsible for licensing and inspecting food establishments in your area click on “Local Food Inspection Programs” on the Food and Consumer Safety Bureau’s home page.

What is a critical violation?

During an inspection at a food establishment, inspectors use a 37-point checklist to verify that the establishment is conforming to rules and regulations governing food safety.  All violations are identified as either “critical” or “non critical.”  A critical violation is one that, if left uncorrected, could cause harm or injury to the employee or consuming public.  An example of a critical violation would be the improper handling or storage of toxic materials, such as cleaners, in the food preparation area of the establishment.

What does “potentially hazardous food” mean?

A potentially hazardous food is one that promotes the rapid growth of infectious toxic microorganisms.  Potentially hazardous foods include, but are not limited to, such items as soft pies, meats, milk, eggs, sauces and gravies.

What does “ready to eat” food mean?

A ready-to-eat food is one that is ready to be eaten without additional preparation by the food establishment or the consumer.

How do I get a license to operate a restaurant?

In order to operate a food establishment, you must first contact either the Food and Consumer Safety Bureau or your local health department to apply for the appropriate license.  If you are opening a new restaurant, you must also submit building plans of your establishment for review by an inspector (referred to as pre-inspection plan review).  No one may open or operate a food establishment in Iowa unless the establishment is inspected before opening and is appropriately licensed.  To find out who licenses and inspects food establishments in your area, click on “Map of Local Food Programs” found on the Food and Consumer Safety Bureau’s home page.

What is an approved food source?

An approved food source is a food item produced or prepared in a licensed establishment under the jurisdiction of a governmental entity.  Restaurants must obtain their food items from approved food sources, such as licensed food processing plants, meat suppliers inspected and licensed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), or licensed grocery stores.  The u.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the production and distribution of all food items (except meat and poultry) sold in interstate commerce. 

What is the Food Code?

The Food Code is a set of regulatory guidelines published by the u.S. Public Health Services and adopted by law in Iowa Code Chapter 137F (2005).  The Food Code sets out the policies and procedures to be used by food establishments to safely handle, store, prepare and serve foods to the consuming public.

Frequently Asked Questions | How to Read an Inspection Report | Terms and Definitions

Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals
Food and Consumer Safety Bureau
Lucas State Office Building
321 East 12th Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0083
Phone: (515) 281-6538
Fax: (515) 281-3291