How well can you trust that your methods for labeling and storing food are helping you avoid cross-contamination and food spoilage? Check your inventory and make sure items are labeled correctly and that you’re following a first-in, first-out system for using ingredients. By labeling foods accurately and ensuring that you’re using them by their use-by date, you can minimize your waste and avoid triggering a potential foodborne illness or allergy.
Restaurants can be chaotic – but if your storage areas make it look that way, you’re inviting food safety hazards. Looking through everything you store, from menu ingredients to cleaning solutions, is anything missing a label? If during the dinner rush your staff has to make educated guesses about the freshness of food items they are preparing or the identity of solvents they are using to clean, you might serve ingredients that have spoiled or introduce toxic chemicals into your kitchen in areas where they don’t belong. Make sure all containers are labeled with their contents, as well as the date they were filled and the date by which contents must be discarded.
If you’re hiring a lot of temporary staff over the summer months, it’s especially important to make food safety front-of-mind for them. While your ongoing training is an important piece of that, you can set your team up for success by giving them the right tools for safe food handling and storage, as well as proper equipment care. Keep sinks stocked with soap and paper towels, provide ample disposable gloves or other protective items for food handling, and post signage to remind staff of the times when washing is required and to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking around food preparation areas. Check shelving to ensure food items can be stored six inches off the floor, designate separate areas for cleaning solutions, and calibrate appliance thermometers to ensure food is being stored at the proper temperature. Make sure there is a sanitizer bucket with a submerged towel at each station, and a supply of test strips available to help staff keep equipment and preparation surfaces clean.
Food storage areas are a key source of contamination. If you’re working in a small space – and many of us are these days as restaurant footprints shrink – ensure you’re taking steps to prevent cross-contamination of foods with chemicals or with incompatible foods. That includes not storing any food items alongside cleaning supplies, keeping food in airtight containers, allowing air to flow around the items you’re storing, rotating stock and removing waste promptly. In your cooler, keep raw meat, poultry and seafood on the lowest shelves to prevent those items from dripping onto other foods.
If you’re facing ice storms, snowstorms or other severe weather that could knock out your power this winter, you may be in the position of having to quickly take action to protect the food and beverage you’re refrigerating or freezing – and to determine what needs to be discarded. Don’t trust your nose or your taste buds in these situations, since they can’t necessarily detect when something is still fit to be consumed. You’ll be in a better place to salvage your food and beverage if you take steps in advance to store them in a way that enhances quality and freshness from the start. One tool that can help is the FoodKeeper app. Developed by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, with Cornell University and the Food Marketing Institute, the app (available for Apple and Android) lists optimal storage information for hundreds of items in your inventory.
Amid labor and supply shortages, it’s more important than ever to be able to prepare items in bulk and find uses for all of them. Your labeling system can ensure you stay on top of food expiry dates and prioritize the use of items that have been placed in storage first, but an inconsistent system can lead to confusion on staff about the final usable date of a stored product. If that’s the case in your operation, Foodinspector.org advises using colored weekday-style stickers that are applied according to the expiration date of an item – so a food product with a Tuesday label can be used through the end of Tuesday but should be discarded prior to any food preparation on Wednesday.
‘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.