Food Program

Food Program Information



The San Diego County, Department of Environmental Health and Quality (DEHQ), Food and Housing Division (FHD) seeks to increase life expectancy and the quality of life by promoting public health and safety for the 2.9 million residents of San Diego County and the more than 14.7 million overnight guests that visit the County each year. Our commitment is embedded in our goals and objectives that focus on reducing risks that can lead to foodborne illness. We also support sustainable environments by encouraging fresh local foods. Click here to view our Community and Culinary Gardens page.

There are 18 cities with more than 13,800 permanent retail food facilities in San Diego County, including over 8,100 restaurants. Any person operating a retail food facility (including vending vehicles or a catering business) is required by law to apply for and obtain a valid public health permit. Our Environmental Health Specialists conduct more than 32,000 inspections at these food facilities each year.

Find out more how DEHQ protects public health in this brief video clip



FHD conducts risk-based inspections, which means we focus on items that strongly affect food safety and foodborne illness.  In a risk-based inspection, issues such as handwashing, food temperatures, and dishwashing are more important than a missing light bulb or a broken tile.  

Our team of Environmental Health Specialists conduct inspections using a statewide standard "Food Inspection Report".  The Food Inspection Report lists all possible violations, including Major Violations, Minor Violations and Good Retail Practices, and is an excellent tool for food facility operators to uphold the highest level of food safety.  Specialists receive continuous training on inspection procedures to ensure that food facilities across the County are held to the same high standard.


FHD also conducts risk-based inspections on mobile food facilities.  Mobile food facilities can also be inspected at the County Operation Center. For more information on the Mobile Food Program, click HERE or visit


Counties throughout California inform the public of restaurant inspection results through different methods. 
San Diego County is among a handful of Counties that use a grading system. 

Here's how it works: 
1. Each violation on the Food Inspection Report is assigned a point value depending on its importance. For example, a Major Risk Factor is worth four points, a Minor Risk Factor is worth two, and a Good Retail Practice is worth one.

2. Once the Specialist completes an inspection, the points are added up and subtracted from 100. The resulting number is the inspection "score".

3. A letter grade is assigned to the facility based on the inspection score. An "A" grade means the facility earned a score of 90 to 100 percent and is in satisfactory compliance with state law; a "B" means the facility earned a score of 80 to 89 percent and needs improvement; a "C" means the facility earned a score of 79 percent or less and is a failing grade.

4. The grade card must be displayed near the public entrance during hours of operation.



Since each food facility is different, the Food and Housing Division utilizes various tools in our "tool belt" to gain compliance.  We start with education - each food handler in San Diego County is required to receive approved food safety training.  Through inspection of food facilities, the Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS) can reinforce food safety principles.

During an inspection, an Official Notice of Violation (NOV) is issued when the REHS determines the facility is not in compliance with the law.  The notice includes the list of violations along with a specified time to correct each violation.  The time period specified to correct the violation(s) depends on the type of violation.

When an imminent health hazard is found, the facility is closed in the impacted areas.  If the facility is required to close, the inspector will replace the grade card with a CLOSED sign, and list the reason for closure on the sign.  A closed food facility must remain closed until written authorization to re-open is given by this department.  All major violations must be corrected or a suitable alternative must be implemented before the facility is granted permission to re-open. The CLOSED sign is then replaced with a grade card.  

If a specialist observes repeated major violations in a food facility, additional actions are taken.  Actions range from administrative hearings, which require the food facility owner to meet with the specialist and a supervising specialist to develop a plan for improvement, closure on the spot if an imminent health hazard exists, suspension or revocation of the health permit, to criminal or civil penalties.


The California Health and Safety Code lists requirements for retail food facilities under the California Retail Food Code (CalCode). Legislative changes are listed on our Publications page.


FHD's Complaints page provides food-related contact information, including suspected foodborne illness, water and sewage problems, and other related issues.


Food & Housing Programs
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