Restaurant operators are being challenged to make their delivery menu items interesting, as well as appealing and safe to consume after a car trip. But when everything from coffee to ice cream is available and popular for delivery, food packaging becomes especially important. Your to-go packaging should lock out air and contaminants that can alter the integrity of the food being transported, so ensure lids and wrapping are sealed securely. When packing items for delivery, separate cold, hot and aromatic foods that could alter the temperature, taste and quality of the food or drink next to it.
Different parts of your facility are likely experiencing more sharp fluctuations in temperature this season than usual as you try to keep your building warm enough for the comfort of guests and staff but also well ventilated. When you turn up your thermostat, note that any increase in heat in your kitchen and dining room can pose food safety problems for cold tables, open display coolers, or buffets with cold food items in those areas (in addition to being less energy-efficient). Make sure those items are covered when not in use, and that you’re checking food temperatures on a regular basis to ensure foods stay out of the danger zone.
Poorly maintained appliances aren’t just energy drains but also food safety hazards – and if you aren’t using up-to-date technology to monitor your equipment right now, ensure you are manually checking it daily for signs of malfunction. The walk-in cooler, for example, is among the top sources of food inspection violations. Monitor your cooler’s working order by confirming there is no difference between the temperature of the air in the cooler and the food being stored. Look for traces of mold and ensure the door closes securely. Check for the build-up of grease on the exhaust fan, as well as any water dripping from it, which can pose a food contamination risk.
The intense heat people are experiencing in many parts of the country this summer, along with ongoing labor shortages and supply chain challenges, require some extra vigilance when to comes to food safety. Trucks may be taking longer to get foods to their destinations, providing more opportunities for food to be exposed to the temperature danger zone – particularly in record-breaking heat. Take extra care right now in checking deliveries to ensure food is being delivered at safe temperatures, is labeled with expected use-by dates, and shows no evidence of damage or decay (e.g. unsealed packaging or evidence of pests or freezer burn). Also be aware of foods that may be dangerous to eat due to the temperature spikes in parts of the country.
Summer often coincides with a spike in food poisoning as hot temperatures help foodborne pathogens thrive. The CDC advises that all perishable items are refrigerated within one hour, particularly if it’s 90°F or warmer. If you’re preparing food and serving guests outdoors, make sure employees are wearing gloves and using tongs for serving. Provide hand sanitizers or wipes if a handwashing sink isn’t immediately accessible. Finally, take extra care with marinades and sauces that may have touched raw meat and could spread bacteria to cooked foods through direct contact or splatter. When removing cooked meat from the grill, always use clean utensils and a clean plate.
In warmer weather, your refrigerators and coolers have to work harder and it’s easier for food to enter the temperature danger zone when it is left out to cool down prior to refrigeration. Make sure the doors of appliances are only opened when necessary and are closed promptly. It’s also a good time to remind staff to avoid chilling bulky food items and to take steps to make it easier for large-volume foods to cool down. Divide hot foods into smaller containers for chilling and use ice baths to bring food temperatures down to refrigerator-ready temperatures quickly. To keep food out of the temperature danger zone, make sure hot foods cool down from 140 to 70°F within two hours and to 41°F or less within four hours.
We’re all eager to gather and eat restaurant food outside of the house – and this summer should usher in a happy return to those times. Make sure your food safety practices are up to speed, particularly if you’re hosting barbecues or otherwise preparing and serving food outdoors. Summer heat makes it easier for foods to fall into the temperature danger zone (the range from 40-140°F where bacteria grow most rapidly). When the temperature surpasses 90°F outside, perishable foods such as cold salads, dips and cut produce are only safe for an hour. Hot perishable foods, including meat and poultry, should be kept at 140°F until they are ready to be eaten.
If you’re serving food in new ways – such as keeping items packaged and in a hot-holding area when you didn’t before – double-check your food safety protocols to ensure you’re protecting the foods you have available for easy and safe collection by customers. While keeping foods out of the temperature danger zone is critical, how is your food affected if you keep it out at the proper temperature for many hours at a time? A USDA advisory calls for operators to keep foods at a minimum temperature of 135°F for a maximum of eight hours, or a minimum temperature of 140°F indefinitely to protect food safety. But to maintain both safety and quality, Jonathan Deutsch, Ph.D., professor of Culinary Arts and Food Science at Drexel University, told Restaurant Business that it’s best to limit the hot holding of food to a period of between two and four hours, which may mean replenishing your supply at more regular intervals.
It may be cold outside, but don’t forget to take the proper precautions when cooling foods – particularly if you’re making winter soups or large quantities of other items to be refrigerated or freezed and served later. To keep foods out of the temperature danger zone (between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria grow most rapidly), you don’t want to leave food unrefrigerated for more than two hours. On the flip side, refrigerating a hot food prematurely can also compromise the cooling of other foods in your refrigerator. To expedite the cooling of foods prior to refrigeration, try storing them in shallow containers – ideally stainless steel, which transfers heat away from foods more quickly; placing the food in an ice-water bath and stirring it frequently; using an ice paddle to distribute cold through a food; or storing it, loosely covered, in cold-holding equipment to help cool the food down.
You may well be freezing more foods lately amid the uncertainty in the food supply chain and in your customer numbers. Take care to thaw these foods carefully – items left on the counter to thaw may seem frozen even when their outer layer is well within the temperature danger zone (between 40 and 140°F). The USDA advises operators to use only three methods for thawing foods: refrigerating, submerging in cold water and microwaving. The latter two methods are fastest but require more vigilance: When submerging an item in cold water, ensure you use a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent contamination and change the water every 30 minutes. When microwaving, cook the item immediately after thawing in case parts of the food have been partially cooked (and may be in the danger zone).