Food Safety and Inspection Program

Girl smiling at restaurant

Our families depend on the safety of the food we eat at food service establishments. Food safety inspections protect our community from disease, disability, and death resulting from food-borne and waterborne illness. By administering the public health ordinances of the City of Houston and the State of Texas through enforcement and education, our food safety inspectors ensure that the food provided by food service establishments is safe for our families and our community.

The Food Safety and Inspection program is part of Bureau of Environmental Health. Along with other programs, our purpose is is to carry out a city-wide program for food safety, to promote health, and to prevent food-borne disease through education, training and regulation.

The program is designed to work in partnership with the people who make the day-today decisions that determine food safety — the owners, operators and employees of all food service establishments.

Retail Food Inspection

The retail food inspection section is responsible for routine inspections and compliance investigations at all retail food establishments (places selling, serving or giving away food directly to people who may consume the food).

This includes: restaurants, grocery stores, retail bakeries, schools, day-care centers, convenience stores, bars, produce stands, mobile food units (routine sanitation inspections) and other similar operations.  In addition, this section inspects temporary food establishments at the livestock show, festivals and other special events. 

Specialized Food Inspection

The specialized food inspection section is responsible for inspections and complaint investigations of all food establishments not inspected by the retail inspection section and conducts pre-operational inspections of all food establishments.

Specific functions:

  1. inspections of wholesale establishments such as warehouses, commercial food processors, commercial bakeries and commissaries; 
  2. inspections of catering businesses, hospitals and nursing homes,  
  3. mobile food unit inspections including: inspections associated with  new units, the annual renewal of permits, surveillance of unpermitted mobile food vendors and catering trucks with routes.
  4. sampling of frozen dessert machines (soft serve, frozen yogurt, slush)  
  5. checking plans in the case of new or remodeled facilities, as well as conducting pre-operational inspections of new businesses and facilities.

Specialized Processing

Variances and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans are required for some types of food or food processing methods. Variances and HACCP plans are required to be submitted together for a specialized food processing methods. In other instances, only a variance or a HACCP Plan is required. This handout will help you decide if you need to submit both a request for a variance and a HACCP plan. It will also provide circumstances when only a variance or a HACCP plan is needed. You will also find supporting information from the Houston Food Ordinance, a waiver instruction sheet, and information on how to submit a request for a Variance/Exemption.

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Page last reviewed: February 5, 2024