San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

How does the Health Ministry's restaurant inspection process work?

When consumers suspect that a restaurant or business does not meet sanitary requirements to operate, they may file a complaint with the Health Ministry branch nearest the establishment’s location.

Hugo Guevara, director of the ministry’s South Metropolitan branch, said complaints are kept confidential but not anonymous. Depending on their nature, complaints may be addressed immediately or put aside.

Usually health inspectors stick to a schedule of planned annual visits to verify restaurants are following health code standards; however, inspectors are prepared to address emergencies, Guevara said.

“If we detect a mass food poisoning, we immediately send a team to see what’s happening,” he said. “We do the same if we detect a sudden increase in the number of complaints filed against a specific business.”

Inspectors use several criteria to define whether businesses may continue operations despite health regulation violations. Authorities take into consideration the nature of the violations and whether the business is a repeat offender.

“Everything related to food preparation must be immaculate,” Guevara said. “Finding bugs in the kitchen is a severe violation that leads to an immediate shutdown of the place. However, if the walls are a little dirty or in need of new paint, these are minor infractions that the establishment may solve without having to stop operations.”

Guevara said restaurants often violate health regulations because the owners relax after a first successful inspection and then forget that “an inspector may arrive at any time.”

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