If you’ve been in the restaurant business for any length of time, you know that contaminated foods can take down a restaurant faster than just about any other type of negative reviews or disappointed guests. Here are the steps you can take to help ensure that your restaurant doesn’t become the next “gone viral” food illness on social media.
Temperatures and Receiving
Vendors are often the first to introduce a microorganism into your establishment. Make sure that they process and transport the food they are delivering to you according to food safety standards. This requires them to keep food at the correct temperature. It should arrive to you no higher than 41 degrees F. Check food upon receipt and if it is not at the right temperature, don’t accept it.
Make sure that none of the packaging is torn or wet. This ensures no invasion by pests or rodents. Take a look at the truck the food arrives in. Is it keeping the food at the correct temperature, and is it clean? Are there any cross-contamination issues that are apparent? When food arrives, make sure it is inventoried immediately and placed in the appropriate storage places. The danger zone—when food is subjected to pathogens—is between 41 degrees F and 135 degrees F.
Make sure that you have a protocol in place for thawing food. There are a few techniques you can incorporate that are designed to bring food from its frozen state without introducing microorganisms.
- Thaw in the refrigerator. This entails planning ahead, but is the best procedure to adapt when possible. Make sure the item is on the lower rack so it does not drip on food that is placed under it during the defrosting period.
- Thaw food under submerged running water that is at a temperature of 70 degrees F or lower. This is the least economical approach.
- Thaw food in a microwave. This can change a foods cooking time and flavor, so it is best to use microwaves sparingly.
- You can thaw food as part of the cooking process. Again, this often reduces your standards and quality control.
Reduce the Possibility of Cross-Contamination
Salmonella and other contaminants are often found in raw meat, poultry and eggs. Color-code equipment, cutting boards and utensils in order to designate the type of food that can be processed on and with them. Green may designate fruits and vegetables while red represents meat. Poultry and fish should also have their own individual colors. If possible, store raw meats and dairy in a separate refrigerator from vegetables and ready-to-eat food. If not possible, make sure there are designated spaces for each food type. Always label stored food with a date.
Cross-contact relates to food allergies and is defined as a food that contains an allergen coming into contact with a food that does not contain the allergen. If you accommodate specific dietary requests such as lactose or gluten free, you will need a designated space in which these items can be prepared. With this growing customer base, many restaurants are attempting to offer these specialty items, but it is not easy if done correctly.
Keeping the Kitchen Clean
Putting the proper procedures in place for keeping the kitchen clean is vital. In a busy environment, it is easy to cut corners. To this end, all employees need to be well-trained in the importance of food safety and cleanliness, as well as their own cleanliness and frequent hand-washing. Clean and sanitize items after every use. ServSafe recommends cleaning and sanitizing in the following manner:
- Remove the debris
- Wash and rinse the surface
- Sanitize the surface with the correct sanitizing solution
- Allow the surface to air-dry
Institute a good pest control protocol. This is often best performed by professional pest management companies that know the hot spots, what to look for, and the tactics to take to reduce the chance of an invasion.
Although these procedures may not be visible to your customers, they will be felt. A staff that knows they’re serving food from a well run, crystal clean and food-safety conscious kitchen will be prouder when they set your enticing dish in front of your soon-to-return guest.