A key requirement for food preparation, in general, and restaurants in particular, is to adhere to food-handling procedures that ensure that food is safe to eat. Proper food hygiene prevents germs, which can cause food-borne illnesses, from contaminating food. Whereas health inspectors will visit your restaurant from time to time to inspect it for compliance with legal health and safety requirements, it is up to you to provide the proper food safety products and training to help your staff promote food safety in your restaurant. The following guide will discuss the various measures that you can take around your restaurant’s premises and kitchen; proper food preparation processes and utensils; and ways to train your staff to keep your food – and your customers – safe.
While you may think it’s important to advertise your restaurant’s menu and to focus on the culinary experience your restaurant offers, you should also take the time to emphasize how much your restaurant focuses on serving food safety. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, roughly one in six Americans gets sick from a foodborne illness annually, so making sure that your customers are aware of your vigilance in this area is smart for your business.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes the FDA Food Code as a guide for ensuring food safety. This is a voluntary guide for foodservice establishments, but there are legal requirements as well, which follow the same principles. Most food-related regulations are adapted to the type and size of a business, but all are in place to ensure that food is kept safe and suitable for consumption. By complying with food-safety rules, and training your staff to keep food hygiene at the fore, you can guarantee that your customers will have a thoroughly safe and enjoyable time in your restaurant.
Food safety legislations are designed to ensure that restaurant premises are clean and well maintained, and that all areas of a restaurant – not just the kitchen – are free of disease-causing organisms and pests. This means that managers must ensure that bathrooms are sanitary and separated from food preparation areas and that they are stocked with products that allow for proper hand hygiene. Proper drainage is also vital in a restaurant as standing water, following floor washing, attracts pests and germs. Drains are a breeding ground for pathogenic micro-organisms when microbes float in the drain water. When this happens, they create the potential for transferring pathogens from the drain to food products.
Proper restaurant floor cleaning requires the right tools that are designed to clean all the different floors in your business. Sweeping, mopping and disinfecting are all essential parts of the restaurant-cleanliness program that you must implement.
Restaurant Kitchen: Food Safety is a Must
Equipping all areas of a restaurant kitchen, from refrigerators and cooking units to smallwares, must be done with hygiene and food safety in mind. Temperature and cleanliness are probably the two most essential elements of food safety and both elements must work in conjunction to ensure that food is kept safe.
Food Preparation: Temperature is Key
The temperature of food and the time it takes to reach that temperature differs for each stage of the food preparation process. This includes storage before preparation, storage after preparation, serving hot food, serving cold food, and reheating food.
Food must be stored and cooked at safe temperatures: Oven thermometers and refrigerator and freezer thermometers will monitor the temperature of major appliances. Perishable food should make it to the freezer or refrigerator before it reaches the temperature danger zone (between 41°F and 135°F). Food in this temperature zone can grow harmful bacteria, including salmonella, which can make customers sick. For this reason, never thaw or marinate foods outside of the refrigerator. When you defrost frozen meat or fish, leave it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent juice from dripping onto other food items. During the thawing process, it is important that the product remains in its original, watertight packaging. When marinating, items should be stored in a sealed container.
To ensure that food is refrigerated properly, periodically check refrigerators with a thermometer to make sure the internal temperature is at the approved 40°F or below. There are infrared food safety thermometers available that will display food temperature without actually touching the food, thereby eliminating cross-contamination.
Avoid Putting Hot Food in a Cold Refrigerator
It’s never wise to put hot food, like a steaming pot of fresh soup, into a cold refrigerator. This is because it will make the fridge warm up – along with the rest of the fridge contents – faster than the fridge can cool down the hot item. If food stays too warm for too long in the fridge, it will start to spoil. Using a cooling paddle cools food down much more quickly than simply letting it cool down on its own.
To use a cooling paddle, which is made of sturdy plastic so it won’t melt or release harmful chemicals into food, fill it with water and leave it in the freezer until needed. When it’s time, remove it from the freezer, and dunk it into your boiling hot soup. By quickly reducing the temperature of your soups and sauces before transporting them to the refrigerator, you greatly increase food safety.
Cross-Contamination: What is It?
Without proper precautions, dangerous pathogens can be spread from food or unwashed hands to food-prep areas, equipment, utensils, or other food. This is referred to as cross-contamination and all measures must be taken to avoid it. For diners with food allergies where going out to eat can be a life-threatening experience, kitchen staff must practice proper allergen safety, which is aimed at avoiding cross-contamination between “free-from” foods and foods that may contain allergens.
Useful Products that Prevent Cross-Contamination
All work surfaces, equipment and utensils should be cleaned and sanitized after each task. Simply rinsing equipment is not enough to eliminate pathogens that can contaminate food. Each type of food should be prepped and handled with a separate piece of equipment. For example, use one set of cutting boards, utensils, and containers for raw poultry, another set for raw meat and a third set for produce.
Food labels can help to identify production date or last sale date, while color-coded products and utensil handles can help keep equipment separate. Examples of color-coded utensils are:
Aside from color coding, the one-piece construction means that food won’t get caught in nooks and crannies of the spring mechanism.
Color-Coded Cutting Boards: Color coding provides easy identification for controlled food contact, while high density, non-porous surfaces will not stain or absorb juices
In addition, the process of transferring food from freezer to oven to service line is best done without re-panning, as this will reduce food handling and the risk of cross contamination. Therefore, covers for steam pans are particularly useful, as the cover will seal the steam in the pan for accurate temperature control.
A knife sanitizer helps keep cutlery as clean as possible by removing almost 100% of bacteria from knives, including germs that remain on the blades after regular washing. Knife sanitizers come in different formats, including those that use ultraviolet light to clean the cutlery and those that utilize sanitizing liquid to cleanse the knives. A knife sanitizer helps keep cutlery clean, so you can adhere to health codes. The special design of a knife sanitizer lets you clean many knives at the same time and eliminates bacteria that regular washing won’t remove or dirt that collects in spaces that are harder to clean.
The Number One step to avoid cross-contamination is to implement a personal hygiene program that includes policies that address proper handwashing and glove use. Remind employees to wash their hands, particularly after using the restroom and after handling raw meat, seafood, and poultry. Once employees have washed their hands, ensure that they use a single-use paper towel or hand dryer, rather than any part of their uniform, to dry their hands. Also address staff cleanliness and work attire, focusing on topics such as frequent bathing, clean clothing, the proper use of hair restraints and prohibited jewelry; in addition, make it clear that employees should never show up sick. Policies should be posted in an accessible spot and enforced to ensure your commitment to food safety.
A restaurant kitchen’s staff must run smoothly and efficiently, working together to bring out the best possible food to your customers. In the same way, they must also work together in the fight against foodborne illness. Restaurant staff that handles food must be trained so they understand the requirements needed to ensure that food delivered is fit for human consumption. When showing employees how to prepare food, clean and sanitize surfaces, and dispose of any waste, explain why the process is so important. Show staff where buckets, towels, or other equipment is kept, and ensure that these items never come into contact with food, due to contamination threats.
Develop a cleaning schedule and stick to it. To help reduce the spread of pathogens, incorporate the cleaning of front-of-house items, such as laminated menus, condiment bottles, and salt and pepper shakers, into your daily cleaning schedule. For the benefit of all kitchen staff, conduct occasional mock health inspections and emphasize food safety guidelines. What your staff knows and puts into practice could be the difference between a customer having an enjoyable meal or having a violent bout of food poisoning.
The Importance of Food-Handling Certificates
To keep your customers well and your health inspectors happy, make sure that your staff earns a food handling certification. The purpose of food handlers’ training and certification is to provide the required food safety information as specified by regulations of a restaurant’s state, county, or local government. A food-handling card or certificate can be obtained from various accredited organizations that offer courses and training before testing and issuing certification. The following is just a sampling of these types of certifying organizations:
ServSafe: Administered by the National Restaurant Association, it is one of the most popular food safety courses in the United States. This organization is dedicated to making sure every foodservice business “properly stores, handles, prepares, and serves food in a streamlined process with minimal room for error.” Their food handling certification program teaches the basics of food safety, hygiene, contamination, temperature, and cleaning.
State Food Safety
The State Food Safety food-handling course is endorsed by most health departments throughout the United States. Food-handling certification courses differ on a state-by-state basis, so your staff can learn the specifics about the health regulations particular to your area with this course. Typically, the requirements for passing this test are to answer at least 70% of the questions correctly.
National Registry of Food Safety Professionals
The National Registry of Food Safety Professionals (NRFSP) is a nation-wide organization that offers a range of courses for food-service professionals. Their food handling course includes an overview of safety, information on hygiene, a class in food temperature, and a breakdown on pests. These topics, along with several others, creates one of the most comprehensive courses that your employees can take. Employees take the course in a classroom or online, followed by a 40-question exam that they must pass with a 70% or higher.
U.S. Food Handler
The U.S. Food Handler Certificate Program provides food handlers with the basic knowledge they need to safely handle food for human consumption. Successful completion of the program assures food managers and trainers that the certificate holder has completed a basic course in food safety and passed an assessment based on the course material. The test for this course covers hazardous foods, cleaning, hygiene, pests, and most other factors that affect the overall quality of restaurant food.
Promote Your Restaurant’s Dedication to Food Safety
To successfully execute food safety measures and develop a culture of food safety in your restaurant, your entire team must diligently participate in the process. One mistake, such as using a contaminated utensil to handle food, can lead to foodborne illness and a tarnished business reputation. By using the proper utensils and food safety products, and keeping staff up to date on safe food handling procedures through, certificates and other forms of education, your employees will have what they need to help keep your restaurant clean, sanitary, and ready for business.