‘Tis the season to enjoy not only big holiday spreads but also the leftovers that come after. As you order and store ingredients and prepared dishes, make sure you’re up to date on the dating of all items you’re saving for later. Check to make sure your inventory is organized according to first-in, first-out standards to minimize spoilage and waste.
Don’t let hurricane season or other severe weather events compromise food safety at your restaurant. If possible, take steps now to safeguard your facility against weather threats. The USDA advises designating space well off the floor to store non-perishable items that would otherwise be contaminated in the event of a flood. Have appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer to monitor temperatures during power outages. You can also better preserve foods by freezing items in your refrigerator that you won’t need right away, grouping frozen items together to keep them cold longer, and using gel packs, frozen containers of water and dry ice to maintain cold temperatures in your freezer if your power is out for an extended period.
At a time when restaurant businesses are operating at a reduced capacity and may be managing changes to key supplies, it’s important to take steps to keep ingredients fresh for as long as possible. Your refrigerator can help if it’s organized well. Be sure to store meats on the lowest shelves (but off of the refrigerator floor), keep delicate produce away from fans, and avoid overcrowding. Optimal refrigeration happens when there are a few inches of space between the refrigerator walls and your food, and there is also room for cool air to circulate around the foods you’re storing. Finally, ensuring you have clearly dated labels on everything will ensure the first item that goes into the refrigerator is also the first one out.
Compostable packaging for take-out food is on the rise – but what about the packaging that comes into your restaurant from suppliers? In the coming months, packaging technology companies will be generating more compostable alternatives to the plastic film and pouches that are used to package meat, along with other proteins and prepared foods. Fast Company reports that one startup called Primitives is fine-tuning smart compostable packaging that can respond to its environment and detect safety problems. It could mean that in the not-too-distant future, operators won’t have to look to “sell by” or “use by” dates on packaging but can instead note that if a food’s packaging or a label on the packaging has changed color, it may have been tampered with or reached a temperature that has made the food unsafe to consume.
Focusing on your food rotation practices in 2020 can help you improve your food safety results by minimizing the opportunities for contamination. It can also help you reduce food waste. The restaurant fulfilment company Dot It advises you add a food rotation label to your food storage bins and ensure the information on the label meshes with the ways in which you’re organizing your kitchen. Each label should identify the product, include the name or initials of the employee who created the label, mention the date and time the product was prepared, and, if helpful, preparation or handling instructions, along with allergy warnings if applicable. Color coding labels can also help you quickly identify when items need to be shifted out.
As severe weather becomes more common, the increased risk of power outages can threaten food safety. Make sure you monitor your TCS foods to prevent spoilage and discard items that have gone out of temperature range. Steritech advises that you monitor and document food temperatures as long as it is safe to stay in the building. Promptly after losing power, prepare ice baths for your TCS foods. Dry ice can also help you keep refrigeration temperatures at 41° F or below – just be cautious with it as it can produce dangerous gas in enclosed areas. Avoid opening cooler doors as much as possible – a freezer in good condition may maintain its temperature for 24 hours if unopened. Test foods using a calibrated thermometer and throw out any TCS foods that have been warmer than 41° F for more than two hours.
As hurricanes become more frequent and powerful, know the do’s and don’ts about managing food and other items in your business that may have come into contact with flood water during a severe storm. In addition to discarding more obvious items like food and grains that were contaminated, Steritech also advises you dispose of single-service items, spices and seasonings, foils and plastic wrap, wooden cutting boards and jars or bottles that have screw or caps, or flip or snap tops. The same goes for fabric, carpets and any kitchen equipment that can’t be disinfected.
As the bounty of local summer produce begins to wane in many areas, your cooler can help you store favorite items and draw out the season. Make sure you’re storing ingredients in a way that maximizes your available space and keeps the contents fresher for longer. FreshPoint suggests that you make the most of the cooler space you have by storing items not in the cardboard boxes they arrived in but smallers containers that fit more snugly in your cooler. Order splits instead of full cases, particularly if you have a smaller cooler. Remove items that don’t need to be refrigerated, such as onions and root vegetables. Finally, the cold air in your cooler flows from the back to the front, making certain areas of your cooler colder than others, so make sure you store items where they are happiest – berries and carrots at the back, cucumbers in the middle and apples and melons at the front.
Placing a few bits of information on your TCS food storage bins can have a range of benefits: It can help you avoid serving expired product that could potentially lead to illness, give you a heads-up about when you’ll need to offer specials to get rid of excess items, save you money, and demonstrate to your health inspector that you’re managing your operation well. Upserve suggests you use a food rotation label that clearly lists the type of food being stored, the date it was prepared and added to the storage area, and the date it will expire. Then all it takes is a quick scan to make sure the first bin in is also the first one out.
Don’t set them and forget them. Regulator Robert Powitz told Food Safety Magazine he has seven rules for hygienic and effective storage of dry ingredients. First, date all foods and containers and rotate them regularly so the first one in is the first out. Keep the temperature of the storage area cool, between 50 and 70˚F (and note that every 18-degree increase in temperature cuts shelf life in half). Keep humidity to 15 percent or less and store foods in packaging that seals out moisture. Don’t store the foods in direct sunlight. Keep foods 18 inches away from walls and at least six inches off the floor to minimize contact with condensation and pests. Speaking of vermin, keep doors closed when possible, seal cracks in walls and floors, and monitor bait boxes regularly so you can clean up damaged ones promptly. Finally, your storage area should consider your volume per meal and number of meals between deliveries, along with the height and fraction of usable floor area you have available. The FDA and the Conference for Food Protection’s Food Establishment Plan Review Guide can help you calculate the amount of space that’s ideal for your operation.