Even before summer hit, many areas of the country experienced surprising spikes in temperature this year. As you prepare for outdoor events this summer, take extra precautions with food safety. An especially warm day will shrink the window of time when foods remain safe to consume. Any perishable foods can be left out for only an hour in 90-degree heat and other items should only sit out for two hours. When transporting food, ensure you’re able to keep cold foods at 40°F and hot foods above 140°F, and make additional provisions to keep foods cold or hot if the weather is likely to pose a challenge.
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.
Everyone loves a summer barbecue, though cooking and serving outdoors requires taking some extra precautions around food safety. The USDA advises taking the PRO approach to grilling: First, Place the thermometer 1.5-2 inches into the thickest part of the meat when you think the food has cooked. Then Read the temperature after 10-20 seconds – beef, pork and fish should reach 145°F with a three-minute rest time, ground meat should reach 160°F and poultry should reach 165°F. Finally take the food Off the grill and place it on a clean platter – and wash the thermometer in hot, soapy water or with sanitizing wipes between uses.
If you’re taking part in outdoor festivals this summer or are otherwise serving guests outdoors, take steps to avoid creating the conditions for bacteria to multiply. Make sure you keep cold foods cool (41°F or colder) and out of the temperature danger zone. Store ready-to-eat foods like fruit in separate coolers from raw meat to avoid cross-contamination, and have separate utensils, plates and cutting boards on hand when preparing and serving raw and ready-to-eat dishes.
Warmer temperatures outdoors mean your equipment will be working harder to keep foods at the proper temperatures. Make sure your staff takes extra care with Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) foods, which are most vulnerable to pathogens. That includes meat, eggs, seafood, dairy, cooked vegetables, protein-rich plants, rice/pasta/potato dishes, raw sprouts, cut leafy greens, sliced melon and tomatoes, and cut garlic in oil. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot by maintaining cold food at a temperature of 41°F or below and hot food at 135°F or above.
Campylobacter and salmonella are the top causes of foodborne illness in the U.S., and recent reports of high amounts of poultry contaminated with these pathogens mean restaurant operators should be especially vigilant about safe poultry preparation. Always place raw poultry on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to prevent it from dripping on other items. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. As barbecue season approaches, try to ensure the poultry you serve is eaten promptly to keep it out of the temperature danger zone (between 40 and 140°F) and refrigerate it after two hours – one hour if it is sitting outside in warm temperatures.
Restaurant delivery is a tempting option on cold, dark winter nights – but less so if that order arrives lukewarm. Any hot food you send out the door and into the cold risks entering the temperature danger zone if not protected. Make sure your delivery providers are taking care to shield food from the elements in sealed, insulated bags – and are delivering within a reasonable time frame. On your end, it may also be helpful to include reheating instructions with delivery orders to help ensure your food is eaten at the proper temperature following delivery.
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.