skip to the main content area of this page
Missoula City-County Health Department
(406) 258-4755
Missoula County Seal and image of areas around the City.

Missoula County Environmental Health: Licensed Establishments

Health Division: Environmental Health
Missoula County Home

Plan Review and Facility

August 23, 2011

Why do I need a prep sink?

Sometimes in plan review, I get asked a very simple question: if I have a three-compartment sink, why do I need a prep sink too?  The answer is both simple and complicated... :-) YAY! 

The simple explanation is as follows: a prep sink is designated solely for food preparation in order to prevent cross-contamination. 

Contamination from what?  Many things!  Think about everything that happens at the three-comp.  There are chemicals that we don't want in our food like bleach, quat, and dish soap.  There are also dirty dishes with food debris that you don't want near ready-to-eat food and a possibility for contamination from customer plates and utensils that come back to get washed.  None of these things mix well with keeping food safe.

In addition, food prep sinks are important because of the way they are plumbed to waste through an air gap.  An air gap, simply put, is a physical air space between the bottom of the drainpipe leading from the sink and where it drains to the sewer, most often through the floor sink or hub drain.  This prevents sewage from getting up into the sink where food will be in the case of a sewage back up. 

The complicated response to the questions is yes, sometimes there are cases where a three-compartment sink has been approved to double as a food prep sink, but this is extremely rare, and the applicant had to apply in writing for a rule modification.  The applicant had to make a really strong case as to how they can prevent contamination and accommodate the amount of prep they needed to do in their 3-comp.  Even in cases where a modification is granted, there is still a caveat that says, if the applicant cannot provide adequate separation, or their operation expands in any way, they will need to put in a prep sink.

Plan Review/Facility
April 1, 2011

No Foolin'-- Failure to Complete Change of Ownership Can Result in Closure

Recently several businesses changed ownership without completing the Change of Ownership review and licensing process.  The operators had to stop service until the process could be completed and a license issued.  As many of you know, licenses are not transferrable to new locations or owners, and any facility upgrades must be completed before a new license may be issued.  This can be a very discouraging experience for any new business owner.  Not only do they need to pay for a new license, but the time it takes to review their application, upgrade their equipment and facility issues, and get the pre-opening inspection can amount to down business days and expenses for which they didn't budget.

As current operators, help out those who are new to the food service industry.  When you go to sell your business, let the new operator know they need to contact the health department, and then let us know of the impending change as outlined in the City-County Health Code.  That way everyone is informed and aware of the effort and time it may take to get a new business going.  If we start with all of the information needed, the process can be seamless and hopefully painless!

Administrative/Licensing; Plan Review/Facility
November 29, 2010

What Do You Want, Man? Simplifying the Pre-opening Inspection

It seems that one of the most confusing things with plan review is the pre-opening inspection.  People make it through the application process, answering the questions about storage and preparation techniques, and then get very befuddled when it gets to this last step. Well, here I am debunking another myth about plan review...

So to throw out the line so often uttered in frustration- What do you want, man?  Believe it or not-- I want something that is really simple: be set up as if you were going to serve your first customer the moment I walk out the door.

What does that mean? 

1. Have you equipment on, working and at temperature.
2. Have thermometers in all of your freezers and refrigerators.
3. Have all of your surfaces finished.  There shouldn't be any gaps or openings around plumbing and conduit.  If you are missing sections of your walls and ceilings, you are not ready.
4. Have water in the inserts of your cold table or steam table where you would normally put the food.  It needs to be in there long enough to reflect the unit's ability to hold temperature.
5. Have your dishwasher on and operational.
6. Have sanitizer set up at the correct concentration with the appropriate test strips.
7. Have hot and cold running water at all fixtures.
8. You must be in compliance with all other authorities such as the building department.
9. All construction equipment should be offsite and all surfaces cleaned and sanitized. There should be no construction debris on any surfaces.

If you are wondering if something is necessary at the pre-opening inspection, or if the conditions you have are appropriate, ask yourself if you would serve food with your restaurant in that state.  If it is still confusing, give your reviewer a call, or refer to our pre-opening checklist.

Plan Review/Facility
November 8, 2010

Smooth, Cleanable, Durable... What?? Demystifying Facility Speak

Being the plan review coordinator for Missoula County Health, I catch myself saying things to potential applicants like "all food prep sinks must be air-gapped to waste," "any device producing grease-laden vapors must have a hood with fire suppression" and my favorite-- "all surfaces must be smooth, cleanable, durable and non-absorbent" without much thought.  After the applicant looks at me like they are overwhelmed and ready to run, I realize that I often use 'regulation speak' that may not make sense to others.  That being said, I would like to take a moment to break down some of the facility mantras we live by at the health department.

Let's start with my favorite-- smooth, cleanable, durable and non-absorbent.  This means your surfaces are easy to clean, will hold up to normal use, and repel water, food and chemicals.  Often people meet this requirement using things like FRP on their walls, non-absorbent ceiling tiles, vinyl coving and tile floors, and stainless steel or Formica countertops.  Surfaces are very important in food establishment as anyone in the industry knows.  Your surfaces get subjected to an enormous amount of wear and moisture.  While paint may seem like a cheaper solution at the beginning, it will cost you in the long run when a wall turns into a sponge and rots away, or your backsplash starts growing mold.  Improperly sealed cement floors are also cleanability nightmares.  The surface will absorb and hold onto food particles, essentially making it a part of the building.  Not only is it impossible to clean, but it can attract pests and harbor pathogens.  As you can see, the requirement is there for a reason and not just because it's fun to say and has a heck of a rhythm.  We want your facility to hold up and support your operation and make cleaning and maintenance the easiest it can be.

Air-gapping seems to be another area of confusion. All it means is that waste drains indirectly to the sewer and not carried away in a continuous pipe.  Most often the drain pipe is cut above a floor sink or hub drain.  This indirect connection prevents sewage from backing up into your ice machine, ice bins, beverage dispensers, dipper wells, food prep sinks, three-compartment sinks and any other receptacle for consumables or food prep equipment.

As for grease-laden vapors... think fat, think of all the tasty foods that will clog your arteries and send you in for a triple by-pass.  Burgers, fries, doughnuts, chicken wings... your mouth watering?  Mine sure is.  Ahem!  Back on point... processes that cook foods in oils, or cooking foods that already contain a large amount of fats need fire-suppression.  The reasoning behind this is simple: the containment of grease fires.

I hope this blurb straightens out some of the confusion surrounding our facility speak and explains the reasons why we live by the mantras we do. 

If you have any questions about facility requirements, or the reasons behind them, please contact me at 258-4755 or  

Plan Review/Facility

Have a question or comment on one of our blog entries?  Have a question you would like addressed?  Contact


Site Navigation

Health Divisions

More Information