Webinar #31 – Your Shaved Ice Equipment and the Health Department

Sink System, Health Department

Ok, Today’s discussion is ultimately on how to get your Shaved Ice Business and Shaved Ice Equipment to pass the inspections by the dreaded and almighty Health Department.

We start out by discussing how broad and varied the health department is. Many people when they are first starting out in Shaved Ice and even other industries have a preconceived notion that the health department is the same entity no matter where you are in the United States.  There could not be anything further from the truth. The health department is different for every county.  In fact, I use this image during the webinar to illustrate how many counties there are in the country.

Shaved Ice Equipment - Health Department, Counties
We then discuss how Snowie builds their stands to please and pass nearly every health department in the US. You will often hear us say that we build our stands to the specs of the hardest health departments to pass in the nation. This is true except for when they request that we do something completely off the wall that would then force that stand to be rejected by nearly every other health department. I have an example of this which I will share later in this post.

Every piece of Shaved Ice equipment that Snowie manufacturers or puts into our stands is NSF approved. We have spoken with NSF and they have told us numerous times that there is no way to NSF approve a complete shaved ice stand, a shaved ice truck, or a shaved ice bus. We do have the ability to say that everything within our stands and busses as well as everything they are created from, are NSF approved.  This is a very comforting piece of information when you are heading to the Health Department and hoping for approval.

There is another question and request that we get quite often.  The question is, “is it better to have a stand to take to the health department, or take them drawings previous to a purchase to make sure it complies?”

Well, the answer to that is both, really. If you have a stand, it is often better to take that stand and have it inspected.  That way they know exactly what is going within the stand and they can quickly approve it or give you the recommendations on what needs to change. You also may often have the advantage of having someone cool from the health department that will say, “Ah, that is off by 1/2 inch but your stand is very clean and works properly, I will go ahead and pass you.” On the other hand, if you have not purchased a stand, it is a good idea to take in drawings before making that purchase, just in case you live in a county that does not allow for any mobile units or something like that.  It is also wise to do this, because we can make specific, necessary changes to your stand before it is ever shipped to you.

One of the downfalls for taking them drawings before having the stand is that they now have the liberty to make you change items that they normally would let pass. Now it is truly by the letter of the law thus forcing you to change items that you would not have had to previously. This obviously, is not always the case. You can always approach them and say, “This is how it is made.” giving them the impression that customization is not an option. If they believe you would have to make the modifications yourself, they may tend to treat it like you had the stand there in person.

The reality of this topic is that it all depends on the health department and the person who is doing the inspection. I did not speak about this in the video, but much of your inspection depends on your luck of the draw on who inspects your stand. I remember being at the health department and seeing a kid doing some inspections and praying that I would get him. I did not until the final day.  Then he went through my stand and said, “Aah, I wouldn’t have made you do any of this.” That is extremely frustrating to hear, by the way.

So now that I have referred to it a bit, let me share that experience with you.  I was in another state, I will not reveal the name of that state to ensure that we keep a good relationship with them, but I will tell you that it is one of the hardest states to pass in the nation. I was there helping a cousin of mine get started for the first time. I was actually a bit excited to face their health department, because they had given people a hard time in the past. I wondered if that was going to be any different for me. Oh, how foolish I was. It was one of the worst experiences of my shaved ice life.

So, I have an appointment with the health department and when I show up we are verbally going over items and I tell them that my hand washing sink is 4.5 inches deep.  Huge mistake! When you pull a tape on that thing, you can see anywhere from 4.5 to 5.5 inches depending on your angle. That kid I referred to earlier actually pulled a tape at the end and told me the sink was 5 inches deep.  That answer alone, would have made my 3 day stay a 1/2 day venture. But, it was not meant to be.

After telling them that my sink was 4.5 inches deep, they said that I needed to disable my hand washing sink, un-plumb it, and remove and replace my 3 basin sink with a single, large basin.

I thought well, at least it will be easy to find a sink that will fit that larger area on the lower counter… Oh, how foolish I was. (I am going to be saying this quite a bit). I could not find a deeper hand washing sink, and I could not find a sink anywhere close to the dimensions that fit the lower counter.  On the second day I found myself at my third restaurant supply company looking at sinks that were far too large when I noticed a warming pan that looked very similar to the sink that was already in the building.  I asked if I could borrow it.  I tore apart my sink, dropped in the warming pan, and voila! it was like the building was created for this warming pan.

So then I needed to drill a hole in the bottom of this stainless pan. Because no bits at home depot can do that, I had no option but to buy multiple bits, dulling them while drilling from a rented drill over the trash can at home depot. In the end I more or less melted my way through the stainless and was able to put the drain on the pan. Now, take note, the warming pan is flat, so it will force water towards the drain. It also is not recessed like a sink, so the drain sits above the surface of the bottom of the sink by about 1/8 of an inch.  This means that I will have stagnant water sitting in the bottom of that sink and I will have to wipe that water out manually. I thought to myself, “This will never pass.”

Well, I headed back to the health department for an appointment I had that afternoon. They came outside and asked me to turn it on. I started pulling my extension cord towards their building and they said, “No, you need to provide your own power.”

“Well, I am not running off a generator, I am going into a mall and they are providing power.” I replied.

“You need to show that you can be totally self sufficient and provide your own power.”

Screaming now inside my head, I softly replied, “Ok, I will hit home depot and rent a generator and be right back.”

“No, you will need to make another appointment tomorrow.”

“Ok.” I replied having never masked my anger better in my life.

The next morning, I headed to home depot, picked up a generator and arrived at my appointment early.  I pulled out the generator, powered it up, plugged in my stand, ra the water, cold and hot to then hear the beautiful words, “you pass.”

I breathed a big sigh of relief and then the kid that was inspecting my stand said, “this measures 5 inches to me, I wouldn’t have made you change anything.”

I think I felt a vessel pop at this point, but I was still able to manage a smile long enough to get out of their parking lot. Then I screamed and ranted to my windshield for the next 10 miles.

The point of this post and webinar is to illustrate the point that you will never be in control, and you will always have to answer to the health department. They are the authority, so let them hold the power. I know this is extremely hard to do, but remember that your goal is to get your shaved ice stand open and start making money. Just get beyond them and you are home free. Remember to always be nice. They deal with angry people all day long. It is as refreshing for them to have someone nice as it is for you to have someone logical on the other side of that desk. You will be shocked at how far being nice will usually get you.

Also, know that changes will often be required. If you pass with flying colors one year, they will mostly likely make you modify smoothing the next year. Expect that kind of thing and you will be far less frustrated than if you were anticipating no problems at all.

Thank you for reading this post and checking out our webinar this week. We truly appreciate it and appreciate your business.

We will see you soon

Snowie Shaved Ice

1 thoughts on “Webinar #31 – Your Shaved Ice Equipment and the Health Department

  1. Daphne Gilpin says:

    Thanks for explaining that the health department is different in every county and is not actually the same entity for the entire US. My husband and I just moved to an area with really warm weather and are interested in getting a snow cone machine and starting a little shaved ice shack on the corner. I’m glad I read your article because now I have a better understanding of who to contact about the health regulations for the shack.