Food safety in the foodservice industry isn’t optional. If you’ve worked in a restaurant for a while, you might think you know everything about proper food handling and hygiene, but it’s never a bad idea to take a refresher course. There are plenty of smart strategies for handling and storing food, so that you don’t contract or pass along a foodborne illness. Your customers’ and coworkers’ health is at stake, so learning about food safety is absolutely essential. When cooks and servers stay focused on safety, they can prevent the vast majority of foodborne illness.
In this practical guide, we’ve shared 7 top strategies to help ensure food safety in restaurants. Whether you’re a commercial chef or a restauranteur, if you follow these safety tips, your customers will stay healthy and satisfied.
1. Train Employees to Have Hygienic Habits
As a head chef or restaurant owner, you bear responsibility for your employees, so that they know their food safety duties to the letter. First, every employee should have a safety checklist that they can consult when they forget certain protocols. These materials should be offered in multiple languages, and you should also remind employees with visual cues in the bathroom and kitchen. Of course, you should train employees about food safety when they first join the restaurant, but there should be periodic refreshers as well.
Ultimately, the best lesson you can teach the servers and kitchen staff is common-sense hygiene. Every visit to the bathroom should end with at least 20 seconds of hand washing, with soap and warm water. Any cuts or injuries should be totally covered, so that they aren’t in contact with food. Furthermore, the staff should never touch their face or other parts of their body while handling food, because they might contaminate it. Basic hygiene is critical.
2. Prep and Store Food in a Safe Temperature Range
When working with meat, dairy products, and other temperature-sensitive foods, you need to keep them out of the “danger zone”. This is the temperature range where dangerous bacteria can grow and thrive, if the food’s internal temperature stays in that range for about 2 hours. In most cases, the danger zone is between 41°F and 140°F, but every food product has a unique danger zone and time limit. Remember to keep the food’s internal temperature above or below that range as quickly as possible, and you’ll be safe.
3. Keep All Surfaces Clean
Food safety in restaurants isn’t just about the kitchen and employees. Every single surface has the potential to be contaminated, so they need to be cleaned and sanitized often. This includes prep areas, storage areas, trash bins, floors, and walls. The kitchen staff should share cleaning responsibilities, so that food residue and germs are neutralized on a consistent weekly schedule. Sanitizing all surfaces (and the cracks between counters) will ensure that bugs and rodents aren’t visiting the restaurant when you close up shop. These pests can bring dangerous diseases into your space, including listeria and salmonella.
4. Sanitize Kitchen Equipment
Of course, you’ll need to wash and sanitize cooking equipment regularly as well. A complex piece of kitchen equipment can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria if it isn’t cleaned thoroughly. All it takes is a small piece of food to get stuck inside the equipment and spoil over time. For instance, meat slicers need to be taken apart often, so that every component can be cleaned and sanitized. In most cases, you can soak equipment in water above 171°F for at least 30 seconds, wash off any food or oil with soap, and then sanitize it in a safe chemical solution. If your kitchen has a high-temperature dishwasher, you can use that to clean equipment as well.
5. Prevent Cross-Contamination
It’s easy to cross-contaminate food and objects in your kitchen if you aren’t paying attention. When harmful microorganisms are transferred between objects, you spread contaminants around the kitchen and increase the risk of illness. These harmful bacteria are invisible to us, so it’s crucial that restaurant staff use proper procedures when handling different types of food. For example, cooks should cut raw meats, produce, and cooked food on separate cutting boards with a clean knife. Washing your hands can also minimize cross-contamination, as well as avoiding touching food with your bare hands. Use latex gloves whenever possible.
6. Wash Produce Thoroughly
Most fruits and vegetables are covered with pesticides, dirt, and bacteria, so you absolutely need to wash them before serving. Produce should be soaked and rinsed in a large bowl with clean, cold water. You can also use 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water for extra cleanliness. Some produce is sold “pre-washed”, which will save you time during kitchen prep, but you should definitely still keep your eyes peeled for any dirty veggies.
7. Stay Informed About Food Recalls
Finally, chefs and restaurant managers should keep up-to-date with food recalls, so that they don’t accidentally serve contaminated food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) both publish alerts on their websites about food recalls, so you should bookmark them and stay informed.
Practicing smart food safety habits can feel overwhelming, especially when your customers’ health is at stake. To minimize the risk of accidents, you need to make food safety a top priority when training new employees, and then hold them to a high standard of cleanliness. When it comes to food safety in restaurants, the little details really matter. Visit the Chef’s Toys blog for more kitchen safety tips.