No one likes eating at a dirty, untidy restaurant. Public health and food safety of your operation should always be regarded as the number one priority. The reputation of your establishment depends on it.
Most restaurants cannot afford the bad publicity that goes along with an outbreak of a foodborne illness. A bad review (think Yelp!) pointing out unsanitary bathrooms, a dirty host station, or unkempt staff can deal a death blow to a business. It can take several years for reputation to recover from an outbreak traced back to a restaurant’s premises or a failing score from the health department.
No restaurant is immune from the horrors of an outbreak of food borne illness. Remember the outbreak of norovirus caused by tainted oysters at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in 2009? Despite its ranking as a Michelin 3 star restaurant, inspectors found that staff did not wash their hands properly among other hygiene infractions. This just shows that regardless of your operation type, food safety and safe handling and cleaning practices are an absolute must in every food service establishment.
With that in mind, here are a few pointers on how to train your staff on proper safety techniques and some important information on how to protect your investment, your customers, and your employees from harmful safety and health situations.
Training Your Employees
Implementing a training program for all employees is essential. Solid and basic training, at its best, becomes completely integrated in day-to-day operations. Staff compliance and oversight by management are key elements to ensure the success of the training.
Proper food hygiene practices can help prevent a number of issues for restaurants and foodservice establishments. Aside from ensuring your operation passes its health inspection, food safety practices can:
- drastically reduce the risk of food poisoning for your customers
- protect your business’s reputation
- minimize legal accountability in the case of a foodborne illness
Suggestions for Successful Staff Food Safety Training
Here are a few specific ways you can successfully implement food safety training in your kitchen.
- Use an online health and food safety-training program (such as ServSafe) and ensure every staff member takes the time to complete and sign off on it. Ensure you and / or your management has an up-to-date food handling certificate. Check out the cdc.gov site for food workers preparation advice and certification.
- Create a health topic calendar to deliver one health and safety issue per week at a staff huddle (for example, ice & ice machines, proper serving temperatures, etc.). Keep the sessions short, implement the strategy, and set the expectations for the coming week.
- By law, visual cues and signs are required to be posted at crucial areas of the restaurant (such as hand-washing signs near sinks and in restrooms). Go above and beyond and post reminders and check lists at stations throughout the restaurant. It helps to create accountability for all.
The Four C’s: Front and Back of House Focal Points for Best Food Safety Practices
Front and Back-of-House staff have the same responsibilities to maintain high standards of food safety. Though they serve different roles from organization to organization, food safety practices are standard regardless of operation.
You and your staff can manage your food handling practices by breaking them down into these four basic categories:
What Is Cross-Contamination?
Cross-contamination is when bacteria is spread between food, surfaces or equipment and is one of the the most common causes of food poisoning or allergic reactions in restaurants. It is most likely to happen when raw food touches or drips onto other surfaces or prepared foods.
There are several ways you and your employees can avoid cross-contamination:
- Clean and disinfect work surfaces, chopping boards and equipment thoroughly before preparing food and after they have been used to prepare raw food.
- Use different equipment (including chopping boards and knives) for raw meat/poultry, vegetables, allergen-free items, and ready-to-eat food unless they can be properly disinfected by, a commercial dishwasher.
- Wash your hands before preparing food and after touching raw food or common allergy items like peanuts or gluten.
- Separate cleaning materials, including cloths, sponges and mops, should be used in areas where ready-to-eat foods are stored, handled and prepared.
Proper Cleaning Techniques
Effective cleaning gets rid of bacteria on hands, equipment, and surfaces and helps to stop harmful bacteria from spreading to food. Aside from nightly clean ups, it is essential that employees clean as they go. Be sure kitchen staff cleans and disinfects food areas and equipment between different tasks throughout their shift. Not only does this help prevent unsafe situations, but it also helps save labor at the end of the shift.
Cleaning agents are divided into five categories:
- Detergents: Use detergents to routinely wash tableware, surfaces, and equipment. Detergents can penetrate soil quickly and soften it. Examples include dishwashing detergent and automatic dishwasher detergents.
- Solvent cleaner: Use occasionally when grease is burned on surfaces. Solvent cleaners are often called degreasers.
- Acid cleaners: Use when needed on mineral deposits and other soils which detergents cannot remove. These cleaners are used to remove scale in any equipment where water is a key component such as dishwashing machines and steam tables.
- Abrasive cleaners: These remove heavy accumulations of soil that are difficult to remove with detergents. Some abrasive cleaners also disinfect.
- Sanitizers: Sanitizers are used after other cleansers. They are intended only to disinfect surfaces and dishes after they have been thoroughly cleaned and rinsed, and are not a substitute for cleaning.
There are four main steps in cleaning anything in a commercial kitchen are as follows (in order):
- Pre-rinse: This step is primarily used in dish areas for cleaning plates, utensils, and cookware, but can also apply to very dirty surfaces. Any large debris and water soluble particles should be rinsed off before cleaning. This step can occasionally be skipped in some instances, and discretion should be used to save time in the BOH.
- Cleaning / Washing: After rinsing dishes or surfaces, they should be thoroughly scrubbed with hot water and an appropriate detergent. It is important to remove all lose particles, and ensure that every part of what you are cleaning has been washed.
- Rinse: All surfaces that have come in contact with the detergent should be thoroughly rinsed with water to remove all soap and debris. After rinsing, dishes, equipment, and surfaces should appear clean.
- Sanitize: After a final rinse, the items being cleaned need to be sanitized before they are safe to use. Dishes, utensils, and other items that run through a dishmachine can be sanitized by incredibly hot water inside the machine. Should your establishment not have a high heat dishmachine, then all dishes, utensils, etc. must also be sanitized with solution and allowed to dry. Equipment and surfaces all must be sanitized with a disinfecting solution and allowed to air dry.
The Importance of Chilling
Chilling food properly helps to stop harmful bacteria from growing. Some food needs to be kept chilled to keep it safe. Perishable food items, such as milk or refrigerated meats, should be stored under 41 degrees Fahrenheit and labeled with the date that they were put into cold storage. There are some pretty strict guidelines in place pertaining to proper cooling of foods. Here are the most important things your operation should be doing:
- Put all perishable orders / deliveries into the cooler or freezer as soon as they arrive, and double check to make sure they have not been improperly transported or damaged. Be sure to follow standard FIFO (first in, first out) protocol.
- Keep a thermometer in all refrigerated storage space, and make sure that temperatures stay in their respective safe zones.
- To properly chill prepared foods that have been fully cooked, cool them to 70 degrees Fahrenheit within two hours. Once cooled to 70 degrees, within four hours continue to cool in a refrigerator until the food’s temperature falls below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Though regional / local ordinances may vary, these are standard practices to reduce food exposure in what is known throughout the industry as “the Danger Zone” for food.
Safe Cooking Practices
Thorough cooking kills harmful bacteria in food, so it is extremely important to make sure that food is cooked to proper temperature. When cooking or reheating food, always check that it is fully cooked all the way through, not just on the surface.
Use thermometers to verify all cooking temperatures. Please note that these are the recommended cooking and serving temperatures, and though restaurants can offer customers other options, they are required by law to include a disclaimer on menus alerting customers to potential dangers of eating undercooked foods. Here are a list of the government's safe minimum temperatures:
- Beef, Lamb, & Veal: The suggested serving temperature of red meat is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. It should be noted that this yields a medium-done product, and is standard for whole pieces of meat. Ground meat has more surface area, and is more susceptible to bacteria and other dangerous microbes. For this reason, the suggested serving temperature of ground beef, lamb, or other red meats is 160 degrees.
- Poultry: All poultry, regardless of how it is prepared, should be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Seafood: The serving temperatures of seafood can vary. Typically, fin fish is cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, and shellfish is cooked until the shells open or until the flesh is completely pearly white.
- Pork & Ham: Pork and raw ham products should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and pre-cooked ham products should be reheated to 140 degrees.
- Eggs: Eggs should be cooked until both the yolk and whites are firm, and foods cooked with eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees.
- Leftovers: All leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Implementing these tips will put your restaurant on the right track to food safety. Making it the responsibility of every team member will ensure you have a clean, healthy, and reputable restaurant.
PS - We also recommend brushing up on local health and safety standards so there are no surprises when the health inspector stops by to check for proper food storage, refrigerator temperatures, and cleanliness.