Take a look under the hood
Even if you are diligent about keeping work surfaces clean and mopping up spills as soon as they happen, you may still be overlooking one area in your restaurant that can be a major source of safety and hygiene risks. As a recent report in Modern Restaurant Management indicates, nearly one-third of restaurant fires happen due to the buildup of grease in the kitchen hood. Fire hazards aside, when the hood isn’t properly maintained, grease can accumulate on other parts of the kitchen, bacteria and bad odors can multiply, air quality worsens, and there is a greater strain on equipment, which can lead to equipment malfunction and higher energy bills. (The kitchen hood is a major energy drain for restaurants – and an appliance commonly updated with more sustainable options as a result.) To manage the risks, keep up with professional cleaning and inspections per manufacturer’s guidance and in accordance with what foods and quantities of it are cooked there.
Protect summer hand hygiene
Hand hygiene plays a significant role in food safety – and the summer months can make it more important and more difficult to do frequently. Your staff may be serving guests in outdoor dining areas or pop-up stalls that take them farther away from handwashing sinks. They may be handling more surfaces when passing from outdoor to indoor air-conditioned spaces. Hot temperatures can cause busy staff to perspire. If the warmer weather brings a change in routine for your staff, consider how to build in handwashing breaks at regular intervals – and remind staff to wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and running water.
A recent Food Safety Magazine report encourages organizations to think of sanitation as resting on a three-legged stool. People, training programs, and hygienic design and maintenance represent the three legs – and when one or more legs is compromised, it brings down the others. If you have a safety failure, scrutinize each of these legs of the stool to find the root cause. Do you have sufficient people on hand to complete the tasks required? Do they understand what they need to accomplish and when? Is your equipment able to be cleaned easily and does your staff have the appropriate tools and cleaning materials they need? You may see patterns emerging that can help you zero in on your biggest risks.
Be seafood safe this summer
Warm-weather breaks by the sea make seafood even more craveable. But because of spoilage risks and the danger it can pose to allergic guests, ensure your staff understands the best methods for handling and storing seafood safely in its different forms. When it comes to refrigeration, store seafood below prepared foods and produce but above beef, pork and poultry. Store finfish like salmon, tuna and cod on ice while refrigerated and use them within two days. Live crabs and lobsters must be cooked immediately on the day of purchase, clams and mussels should be used within three days, and oysters within a week to 10 days. Any frozen seafood is best defrosted in a refrigerator overnight.
Your to-go packaging can say a lot about your restaurant’s values when it comes to the environment – but it can also leave your food less protected in a couple of ways. Your packaging must be robust enough to keep food safe in transit and protected from external sources of contamination. On top of that, it needs to be made from food-safe components that don’t impact the taste of the food you’re transporting or break down when exposed to hot or cold – potentially affecting the safety of the food and its security in transport. It’s worth testing your packaging after delivery to see if it impacts the experience of your food – and talking to suppliers about your best options.
Protecting plant-based food safety
As the sales of plant-based foods continue to take off, there is still some uncertainty about how to store and prepare these products to ensure they are safe to consume. Although these items are often swapped in for animal-based counterparts, their components and processing methods have far different impacts on their safety for consumption than animal proteins do. According to Global Food Safety Resource, many ingredients used in finished plant-based products are allergenic and have the potential to cause serious reactions. Further, the combination of ingredients including proteins, sugars and fats impacts the microbial load of plant-based products, which can lead to an increased likelihood for survival and growth of pathogenic microorganisms. Finally, the processing of the plant-based food – including the environmental conditions present, raw material used and the handling of the finished product – can all impact its safety. In addition to trusting your suppliers of these products, it’s important to ensure your team is well-versed in the proper food safety protocols for these foods so what you’re serving is safe.
Your waste management efforts can go a long way in not only saving money, but also deterring insects and other pests to your kitchen. Are there steps you can take now to ensure you’re minimizing any food byproducts that are collected in your kitchen and must be discarded each day? Before the hot temperatures hit this summer, give your indoor and outdoor waste receptacles a deep clean — along with the surrounding areas — to clear any debris or liquid that may have leaked out.
Maintain equipment to protect safety
The steps you take to maintain kitchen equipment can help you avoid staff injury, costly repairs and downtime, and unsanitary conditions in your operation. If there any areas of your business where you have delayed maintenance due to constraints in time or other resources, having an updated maintenance schedule and task list may help you prioritize critical items. First, draft a schedule outlining when key equipment needs to be cleaned and inspected based on its age and frequency of use. Then create a list of each piece of food preparation equipment in your operation, including everything from fryers and grease filters to ice machines and water filters. For each item, list the cleaning and maintenance tasks that must be completed and when, along with any special instructions needed. Then select dates for the completion of these tasks so you can track them — whether manually or through an online system that automatically alerts you to these tasks.
Restaurants have become increasingly adept at doing more with less in the past few years, but if you’re still trying to work at full capacity with a skeleton crew, you’re likely increasing your risk of foodborne illness. Condensing your menu, as well as decreasing your hours and available tables, can help you make sure you’re not letting critical food safety tasks slip through the cracks. Beyond that, if your operation looks a lot different than it did a few years ago, consider working with a food safety expert who can evaluate your current processes and suggest approaches that can help you save time and increase efficiency without compromising food safety.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are so appealing on hot days. Just be mindful of the food safety risks these foods can carry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were a total of 86 reported foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States associated with the consumption of fresh produce between 2010 and 2019. These outbreaks resulted in 20 deaths, as well as more than 4,000 reported illnesses, though these illnesses are often underreported. While it’s necessary to take safety precautions within restaurant kitchens, the risks start at the farm. As food safety expert Doug Powell mentions in a report from U.S. Foods, it’s important for operators to get to know their farms well and not be swayed by buzzwords like “natural” and “sustainable.” Understand their practices when it comes to irrigation, soil fertilization and hand washing.
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