What is a Health Code?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 11 August 2019
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A health code is a series of local laws and regulations designed to protect public health. Health codes attach to a wide variety of activities and public services. It is the governing health code that sets immunization requirements for schoolchildren, establishes acceptable community water treatment processes, and obligates restaurants to keep their kitchens to a certain level of cleanliness, among other things. In most jurisdictions, health codes are propagated and enforced at the city or county level. They are designed to promote community welfare, and typically exist apart from regional or national health and safety laws.

In most cases, community welfare and public health is a concern of local legislators and elected lawmakers. Together, these officials craft the set of public health regulations that make up the community’s health code. The scope of most public health code requirements is limited to regulatory matters of public concern. As such, a health code may control standards of cleanliness and hygiene, and is often aimed to prevent the spread of disease. It does not usually touch on larger health matters like doctor licensing, insurance policy making, or medical care standards.


Health codes are usually extensive documents, and are often broken into several sections. Some sections govern medical health facilities, like hospitals, labs, and public clinics. Building licensing requirements, standards of cleanliness, and processes for disposing of certain hazardous materials are usually covered under these sections. A health code may also contain environmental protection elements, including rules controlling the disposal of certain materials in open soil or in streams.

Still other sections govern water health and sewer policies, setting community standards for keeping residents safe and preventing the spread of insects and water-borne disease. Similarly, health codes often make rules requiring disease-prevention mechanisms, particularly vaccinations, for all public school children and teachers. Sometimes, these requirements are also made at a national level. Local rules can either reiterate national rules, or expand upon them according to community needs.

Many of the most well-known health code investigations and violations occur in restaurants. The vast majority of health codes prescribe certain standards and rules for food preparation facilities, including hygiene of food service staff, quality control in the kitchen, and general cleanliness. They are usually set in order to prevent restaurant patrons from eating contaminated food, as well as to keep restaurant staff from exposure to unsafe or unsanitary conditions.

Because they are codified, health codes are, in most places, enforceable law. Prosecuting health code violations is usually only done by specially appointed public health officials, however. The police or other law enforcement officials are not usually involved in writing health code citations.

Punishments for violating health code regulations vary by jurisdiction, just as the regulations themselves do. Offending institutions can get by with as little as a warning or a fine, or they can be shut down completely. The severity of the penalty is usually proportional to the danger that the violation caused.


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