The freezer has been an increasingly critical tool for chefs in recent months, enabling them to continue to serve up meals to-go for immediate heating or later consumption. It will continue to play a key role in restaurant kitchens as operators look to manage fluctuations in customer demand in the months ahead and extend the use of seasonal produce as it becomes more readily available. To minimize deterioration in the quality of frozen food, make sure your staff handles to-be-frozen foods properly. FoodSafetyConnection advises using freezer bags or freezer paper for storing items, squeezing all air out of freezer bags prior to sealing, allowing hot food to cool prior to freezing, and labeling all frozen foods with the use-by date appropriate for the specific item.
In the past year, the need for supporting the local community has become more important than ever to businesses and consumers alike. If you visit your neighborhood farmer’s market in an effort to find fresh foods that elevate the quality and taste of your menu – or even to add some compelling video content to your social media accounts – just take some extra precautions to protect the safety of the items you buy. Local markets are often not subject to the same stringent food safety regulations and inspections that govern larger commercial food suppliers. Knowing your farmer always helps, but Culinary Epicenter advises you take such steps as bringing an insulated bag or cooler to the market to protect and separate items that need to stay cool, inquiring about the preparation and storage of any pre-cut items, avoiding the purchase of items like milk, juice and cider unless pasteurization can be confirmed, taking care to avoid the cross-contamination of foods, and upon your return, thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water before washing all produce.
One COVID-era precaution that seems to be finding new applications in the post-pandemic world is UV lighting. While UV lights were adopted by some operators last year as a means of keeping food safe by killing bacteria, they are now being integrated into the food storage lockers that are becoming an increasingly common off-premise dining solution. Business Insider reports that brands including Burger King, KFC and Smashburger are testing heated or cooled lockers designed to keep food at the proper temperature until that food is collected, and some of the lockers use UV light to kill bacteria.
While health and safety have been a growing concern for restaurants in the past year, technology is also stepping up to provide better options to protect and track food, ranging from coatings to extend the shelf-life of produce, to blockchain technology that helps chefs pinpoint the best times to use a food product (or quickly track the source of contamination in the case of an outbreak). Now, Food Safety News reports that a new technology is showing the potential to prevent contamination in salad greens. The technology uses streams of water carrying sound and tiny air bubbles to remove microbial contaminants from spinach – a product susceptible to salmonella and other bacteria. The research, a collaboration of Sloan Water Technology, produce supplier Vitacress, the University of Southampton, and the Global Network for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Prevention, was published in the journal Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology.
Your cutting boards can be accidental sources of cross-contamination – even if you’re just cutting produce. Clean and sanitize your cutting board after each use by first clearing the board of food particles, washing with warm, soapy water, rinsing, sanitizing and then drying – either with a clean cloth or by air dying. StateFoodSafety.com advises that any glass, plastic or stainless-steel boards be sanitized either in the dishwasher or with an FDA-approved sanitizer like chlorine, iodine or quaternary ammonium. Instead of using a dishwasher to sanitize marble or wooden boards, which can be damaged in the process, sanitize marble with chlorine and wood with quaternary ammonium.
The pandemic has changed the game for the long term when it comes to safety at restaurants. Protocols to keep people safe are no longer just in the purview of health inspectors but are also of greater interest to your customers and the general public – and an extension of the service you offer. It’s more important than ever to be able to respond knowledgeably and professionally to scrutiny and misinformation about your food safety when you are questioned about it by customers or online reviews. Support your staff by creating quizzes and contests that arm them with scientific facts they should have at their fingertips, then reward compliance. Incorporate everything from pandemic-related safety measures related to how the virus spreads, to longstanding safety measures related to handwashing, allergen safety and contamination prevention.
As of this writing, states were starting to announce changes to mask mandates and updated policies regarding how fully to open businesses. Stark differences were emerging in different regions, which may put restaurants in an awkward position in the months ahead – particularly those serving customers across state lines. Now, perhaps more than earlier in the pandemic, it’s important to scrutinize your stance on mask wearing, maintaining social distancing and other pandemic-related protocols. If your state is easing restrictions, how do you plan to manage resistance from staff and guests who are anxious about getting life back to normal? If your state is sustaining or doubling down on restrictions, how can you manage resistance from people with pandemic fatigue, knowing that your business could make news for the wrong reasons if you ease precautions prematurely? Anticipate what lines your business is unwilling to cross and how you can communicate about them in a constructive way to guests and staff alike.
If gloves have become a part of your pandemic food safety protocol, make sure your staff know how best to use them and where they can fall short, since they can introduce new risks if the wearer isn’t mindful of them. Above all, gloves can give the wearer a false sense of security, so enforce the need to avoid cross-contaminating foods and preparation areas while wearing gloves, and to wash hands with soap and water, then dry them, before and after wearing gloves. Also ensure the gloves are a proper fit, since rips or punctures could lead to contamination. Employees should change (and discard) disposable gloves between tasks, after touching hair, mouth or nose, or after four hours of use. Sturdy, reusable gloves should be washed and sanitized between tasks.
As the weather warms up, there’s nothing like the smell of an outdoor grill to bring people out for food. If you’re cooking outdoors, make sure your grill is safe to operate and that you take precautions with it throughout the season to prevent problems. The hospitality business insurer Society Insurance advises that if you’re using a propane grill, check the tank hose for cracks, holes and leaks prior to use. If you suspect a leak or smell gas while using the grill, turn it off immediately and have it serviced professionally. If you’re using a charcoal grill, use only starter fluid – no other flammable liquids – to light it and don’t apply the fluid to charcoal that has already ignited. Coals and ashes should be completely cool before you discard them, at which point they should be placed in a metal container for disposal.
Using a tamper-evident seal on your food for delivery is a small way to demonstrate your commitment to food safety – and an extra precaution you can take to protect food that is out of your hands during transit. These labels can serve multiple purposes, so you may be able to make yours work a little bit harder for you. Consider including reheating and handling instructions where needed, nutritional or allergy information, or even branding information such as your website, logo or social media handles on your labels. You can purchase food safety seals at Amazon, we have provided a link below.