Most of the foodborne illnesses experienced today are preventable if every step in the food handling chain from farmers, chefs, food processors, cooks, and finally, to servers focuses on food safety, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit consumer group. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is a legislative measure that ensures our food supply is safe by reprioritizing the focus from food contamination response to foodborne illness prevention. The FDA added two major rules to the Act pertaining
specifically to preventive controls in human food and produce safety.
Although the Act primarily addresses farms and food processing plants, the benefit filters down to restaurants in the form of making improvements to the safety of food moving through the food chain. While efforts are made to improve the safe handling of food before it reaches your restaurant, it is important for restaurants to do their part once the food is on site.
Restaurant Sanitation Habits
There are three main types of hazards and contamination that can compromise food safety in your restaurant:
- Biological hazards: These most commonly include microorganisms.
- Chemical contaminants: Cleaning solvents or other toxic chemicals.
- Physical contaminants: Hair, dirt, and other physical matter that can mix with food or surfaces.
We’ve come up with the five most frequently ignored restaurant sanitation tips to help your restaurant prevent food-borne illness. All of these are simple to master with proper restaurant employee training and proper checklist systems in place.
1. Maintain Personal Hygiene
The majority of food-borne illness is caused by bacteria and other microorganisms spread by food handlers, according to the “Serving it Safe” report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report draws attention to the fact that every step in food service process has the potential to impact food safety either positively or negatively.
The most basic step toward restaurant food safety is teaching food-handling staff the importance of basic hygiene. And, then enforcing the standards is crucial. This includes proper hand and arm washing at key moments during food handling and covering all open wounds, big or small. The FDA’s 2009 Food Code cleaning procedures recommend that restaurant food handlers wash their hands and the exposed portions of their arms, for at least 20 seconds using a cleaning compound in a specifically designated hand washing sink. Employees should utilize disposable paper towels when contacting surfaces such as faucet handles and restroom door handles.
Open cuts on hands or forearms should be cleaned and treated immediately to avoid infection and contamination of food and equipment. Gloves should be worn until the injury is healed and to prevent a bandage from falling into food products. Avoid washing hands in sinks designated for food preparation or utensil washing, as that will potentially contaminate food and surfaces.
While most food codes do not require employees to wear hair nets or beard nets, they typically require all employees who work with unpackaged food, clean equipment, utensils, or food contact surfaces to wear hair restraints that prevent hair from contacting exposed food or surrounding areas. Employees must also restrain from touching their hair, either out of habit or to keep it out of their face. Head coverings worn correctly, such as hair nets, hats, caps, or scarves, can accomplish this requirement, but so can most hair ties.
2. Clean Contact Surfaces
Proper and consistent cleaning and sanitizing all contact surfaces and utensils is essential, according to food sanitation experts. Food commonly gets trapped in hard to reach places and daily cleaning and sanitizing is imperative. Unsanitary surfaces and food equipment can easily spread organisms that cause food-borne illness to be transferred to restaurant customers, according to the “Serving it Safe” report. Additionally, cockroaches, flies, mice, and other common disease-spreading pests can contaminate food, and service areas if not properly abated. The report also warns against cross contamination and microbial transfer that commonly occurs as the result of handling raw meat or vegetables on the same surface as prepared foods.
3. Sanitize Equipment
Food equipment such as slicers can be challenging to clean and maintain, especially internal parts where pieces of food can easily
become stuck and begin to promote bacterial growth. Complex pieces of equipment need to be disassembled to be properly cleaned. Unfortunately, many common pieces of food equipment are not easy to disassemble and clean. Ideally, equipment will be broken down and cleaned on a daily basis, but employing a balance of effectiveness and practicality is reasonable for restaurant owners. Use digital scheduling and tracking to ensure that periodic cleaning and sanitizing is being completed.
4. Keep a Clean “House”
Apply good basic housekeeping and maintenance to food prep stations of a restaurant. The “Serving it Safe” report notes that restaurants use various chemicals to clean and sanitize and to abate pests. If these toxic chemicals are not properly handled, they could contaminate food and make people sick. Necessary chemicals such as sanitizers, pesticides, whitening agents, detergents, polishes, and glass cleaners
must be used with care only after proper training. Restaurant owners must teach employees to use chemicals properly, store chemicals in their original containers away from food, clearly label all hazardous substances, and use materials safety data sheets to use and store correctly and according to food safety standards.
5. Safe Storage
To prevent bacterial and microorganism growth, it is important to store food at the correct temperature for the proper amount of time. Microorganisms are more likely to grow in the danger zone where the internal food temperature is between 41 degrees Fahrenheit and 135 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the “Serving it Safe” report. The report recommends that food safety cooling logs are used for maintaining and following documented procedures at each stage of food heating and cooling to make sure the time-temperature requirements are met. FreshCheq’s cooling logs make this simple for employees.
Be mindful that thawing meat be placed in an area of the refrigerator or cooler where it will not drip down onto food products below it. Maintain separate ice for cooling food so that ice used for beverages is not cross contaminated.
Proper restaurant sanitation habits are a responsibility that restaurant owners have to their customers. Proper hygiene practices should be communicated prior to employment and reaffirmed with periodic training programs to ensure ongoing food safety.
For more information about how FreshCheq helps restaurants improve food safety and minimize risk, schedule a demo.