Restaurant safety tips you need to know
There’s nothing more satisfying to a restaurant owner than providing an amazing customer experience. From the moment diners walk through the doors until they leave with a full belly and a smile, it’s up to you and a well-trained staff to make it seamless. That’s why understanding and implementing safety procedures — from food prep to cleanliness to employee injuries — is not only important, it’s non-negotiable for success.
When you buy meat and poultry in bulk to meet the orders of your customers, freezing is your friend. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), freezing keeps bacteria from multiplying. Bad news though, it only keeps the bacteria dormant; it doesn’t kill it. If frozen food enters the temperature “danger zone” (between 40 and 140 degrees F), bacteria will wake and grow rapidly. To keep your meats out of the danger zone, follow these meat-freezing safety practices.
- Package it properly. It’s safe to freeze meat or poultry in its original packaging, but keep in mind that air can seep in and cause freezer burn, which dehydrates the contents and affects the taste. Use airtight, leak-proof containers or wrap the food tightly, either in laminated papers made specifically for freezing or heavy duty aluminum foil. And it’s always a good idea to label and date your wrapped freezer items, especially if you have more than one cook in your kitchen.
- Monitor food temperatures regularly. The National Restaurant’s ServSafe program recommends that you keep a thermometer that can measure air temperature in all of your storage units.
- Don’t over-fill units. If you can’t fit everything you need to have on hand comfortably in your freezer, make space and buy another one. Although that’s an added expense on the budget, you can’t put a price on your customers’ safety.
- Don’t open the door until necessary. Advise all of your cooks to think ahead and only open the door to freezers when needed. This helps keep the temperature down. If it’s a busy day and the door keeps flying open, keep monitoring the temperature.
- Know the best thawing methods. Follow the safe thawing methods: refrigerator, cold water submersion, microwave, or cook without thawing. And don’t re-freeze the food unless it’s been cooked completely.
- Always follow state or local health department requirements.
Your business is where people in your community gather for delicious food and good times with friends and family. You make sure your gourmet meat and poultry dishes are not only tasty, but safe to eat by purchasing quality ingredients, properly freezing and thawing, and cooking to perfection. Since the thawing part of your process can be dicey, it’s a good practice to brush up on proper meat and poultry thawing techniques to share with all the cooks in your kitchen. And always follow state or local health department requirements.
Highway to the danger zone
The following thawing techniques can lead to food-borne illnesses like salmonella and E. coli, which can be deadly.
- Hot water immersion. Raw or cooked meat and poultry products need to be kept at a safe temperature during thawing — in fact, as soon as food reaches 40 degrees F or higher, the bacteria that may have been lingering before freezing can multiply.
- Letting the meat thaw at room temperature. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) warns that food should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer could be in the “danger zone” (between 40 and 140 degrees F).
Safe solutions, smooth sailing
These thawing methods will help reduce the risk of food-borne illness to keep your customers coming back for more.
- Refrigerator thawing. For this tried-and-true method, your cooks should plan ahead because, depending on what you’re thawing, it may take two to five days.
- Cold water thawing. Sell more than you planned for? You can always use the method you might use at home — give it a cold bath. Although faster than refrigerator thawing, cold water thawing is slightly more complicated. Food needs to be in a leak-proof package or bag, and the water it’s submerged in needs to be changed every 30 minutes so the item continues to thaw at a safe temperature — 70 degrees F is recommended by the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program.
- Microwave thawing. The main thing to remember when thawing food in the microwave is that you should always cook the item immediately afterward. It’s possible that some of the food will warm more rapidly and begin to cook during microwave thawing, which can potentially bring it into the temperature danger zone.
- Cooking without thawing. In a real pickle, you can cook foods from a frozen state, but keep in mind it’ll take approximately 50 percent longer than the recommended time for fully thawed items. And it’s important to use a thermometer to ensure the proper internal temperature.
A commercial kitchen can be incredibly fast-paced. Between the distraction of incoming food orders and high-traffic work stations, it can be easy to overlook the most important element: safety. As an employer, you are required by federal law to provide a hazard-free workplace environment, and although presenting a visually appealing and delicious meal is the goal, making sure the food is safe is paramount. From cleanliness to cooking, here are tips to ensure your staff and patrons stay healthy.
Keep it clean
Cross contamination — when pathogens are spread from food or unwashed hands to prep areas, equipment, utensils, or other food — is a huge safety concern for restaurants. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans consumes contaminated foods or beverages each year, and although not all cases can be attributed to cross contamination, it’s certainly not rare.
- Employ separate work stations and equipment. Each type of food has its own preparation guidelines, so it’s important to keep items and their workstations separate. For example, you should never use the same cutting board or equipment for vegetables as you do for raw poultry.
- Clean and sanitize all work surfaces — not once, but often. It’s not enough to simply put a cutting board or knife through the dishwasher and use it without re-washing or sanitizing it for the rest of the shift. And simply rinsing an item isn’t enough to eliminate bacteria and other dangerous pathogens from surfaces. All work surfaces, equipment, utensils should be cleaned and sanitized after each task.
- Implement a personal hygiene program. Reminding employees to wash their hands after using the restroom and before and after handling raw meat, seafood, and poultry is your first defense, but you need to make sure employees are free of communicable diseases and open wounds, too. Employees should wear gloves and hairnets to curb potential hazards for both the employee and the customer, so make sure you have plenty of both to go around.
- Invest time in training. Kitchen employees should know the rules and regulations of safely serving, preparing, and storing food. Understanding food allergies, proper cooking temperatures, and safe food handling will help keep a commercial kitchen hazard-free.
Servers — hosts, hostesses, waiters, waitresses, and bartenders — are the first faces customers see. A friendly smile, a clean and tidy appearance, and prompt, knowledgeable service is always the goal of any operation. But just like their comrades in the kitchen, servers have a set of safety rules to follow in order to keep themselves and their customers happy and healthy.
Let’s get physical
If you’ve ever been a server you know how physically taxing it can be. From lifting heavy trays to limited rest breaks to prolonged standing, the occupational hazards can be numerous, and in turn, workers’ compensation costs, both direct and indirect, are skyrocketing. So how does a small business owner limit risks for employees?
- Watch your step. Making nonslip footwear part of a food service uniform can help reduce injury, especially in work areas where wet floors are commonplace. Providing protective hats, gloves, and aprons also goes a long way in shielding employees from burns, cuts, and food-borne pathogens.
- Use ergonomics. Good ergonomic design helps reduce muscle fatigue and job-related musculoskeletal disorders that can occur from lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures, and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Defining goals, discussing them with workers, and assigning responsibilities accordingly can help employees avoid injury and ongoing medical issues.
- Know your chemistry. Chemical hazards and toxic substances can contribute to workplace accidents. Irritation, sensitization, and carcinogenicity are just a few of the threats. Every employee should understand the potential hazards of cleaning supplies and should be aware of how to use and store them properly.
Today, food service goes above and beyond hamburgers and French fries. Many restaurants have full-service bars or home-delivery options. How do you keep your employees safe and within the law?
- Know and teach state law. The legal drinking age in all 50 states is 21. Every state has its own statutes and regulations, so it’s important to educate and implement your jurisdiction’s laws not only to protect your liquor license and insurance rates, but to keep community members and employees safe.
- Deliberate delivery. If you offer home delivery, consider commercial auto insurance or at least make sure your driver is insured. Offer to ride with your worker a few times to familiarize them with common routes and neighborhoods and educate them about how to carry money safely and emergency protocol (accidents or robbery).
- Minimize potential workplace violence. Restaurants and bars tend to be open long after dark, sometimes into the wee hours. The presence of cash, potentially intoxicated patrons, and on-site sexual harassment or assault are very real possibilities. Consider video surveillance and train employees in reporting and logging incidents of threats or violence. Encourage employees to use the “buddy system” — if an employee is required to be outside after dark, provide an escort from the building to the safety of his or her car.
For more information
To learn more about keeping your restaurant employees and customers safe and healthy, go to the ServSafe web site. To learn how to protect your business from property and liability risks, contact your local agent today for a quote.