Food Safety

The Environmental Public Health Division of Harris County Public Health (HCPH) is responsible for  approximately 8,400 retail food establishments located within the unincorporated areas of the county and for 23 cities that do not have their own health departments. 

Retail food establishments include:

  • Restaurants
  • Bakeries
  • Fast food outlets
  • Grocery stories
  • Conveniences stores
  • Bars
  • Day care centers
  • Schools
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospitals
  • Temporary events
  • Mobile food units

With the exception of convenience stores that do not prepare or serve food, each of these establishments is required to have a manager on duty who is trained in sanitation and safe food handling procedures. In addition, HCPH investigators inspect food establishments several times each year and, if requested, will offer an educational session for food service workers.

What laws and regulations does HCPH follow?
Inspections are conducted for compliance in accordance with the Texas Food Establishment Rules (TFER). The TFER is based on the 2013 FDA Food Code and was adopted into state law in late 2015. Harris County Commissioner's Court adopted the revised version of the TFER in 2016. Operation of the food inspection program is also governed by the Texas Health and Safety Code. Unlike other jurisdictions, Harris County may not pass local ordinances that exceed state requirements or laws.

Who does HCPH serve?
HCPH inspects and permits all retail food establishments in the unincorporated areas of Harris County as well as in the cities of Tomball, Katy, Jacinto City, Galena Park, LaPorte, Morgan's Point, South Houston, Seabrook, El Lago, Southside Place, Hunter's Creek, Piney Point, Bunker Hill, Jersey Village, Spring Valley, Deer Park, Humble, Waller, and West University Place.

How frequently is a food establishment inspected? 
Inspection frequency is based on a risk assessment conducted in conjunction with the annual permitting inspection. Risk assessments determine the likelihood of a food establishment causing a foodborne illness. 

Criteria utilized for the risk assessment are: 

  • Type of food processed or prepared
  • Method of food preparation
  • Population served (young children, infirm, elderly)
  • Number of customers
  • Past sanitation and food safety history
  • Whether food manager's certification requirements are met. 

Establishments are categorized from very high to very low risk. Inspection frequency ranges from 12 times per year for very high risk establishments to one time per year for very low risk establishments.

Warnings and Recalls

How to open a food establishment in Harris County

How to purchase a food establishment permit for a festival or other temporary event

USDA's four steps to food safety