Although they might be second nature, you have to leave your kitchen habits at home when you're cooking in a commercial kitchen. You have a responsibility as both a restaurant owner—or as an employee—to ensure that the food coming off the kitchen line is safe for customers to eat.
You not only risk contamination issues when you bend food safety rules, but a public relations nightmare as well if your restaurant should ever be associated with any foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year around 48 million people experience a foodborne illness. In some cases, this exposure can lead to death, especially in populations of young, elderly, or pregnant women.
Remember: When in doubt, throw it out.
HACCP for Restaurants
The Food and Drug Administration created guidelines for the Hazard Analysis Critical Point Program (HACCP) and requires it as a part of all Food Manager certification programs. The FDA's goal is the limiting of the spread of foodborne illnesses through proper management procedures. HACCP is also a requirement of all American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Food Safety Manager's programs. One such program is available through training seminars such as ServSafe.
Based on the idea that careful monitoring of food from farm to production to delivery and to the table can prevent food contamination. The program is designed specifically for commercial food distribution—such as grocery stores and manufacturers—and restaurants.
It focuses on necessary precautions such as immediate refrigeration when perishable food is delivered. It can be a critical point in food safety, but it's often unintentionally overlooked because it hasn't been a matter of training or habit.
Many states and some communities require all kitchen staff to successfully complete a food safety program. However, you can take other steps as well.
Cleaning Your Restaurant Kitchen
Regular cleaning of your restaurant kitchen is a given—or, at least, it should be. Some cleaning jobs must be done every shift, such as wiping down prep surfaces with disinfectant and changing the sanitation water.
Other jobs should be done daily, like taking out the trash or rotating the stock in the walk-in. And still, other cleaning chores can be accomplished monthly, such as cleaning the freezers. Finally, some cleaning jobs can happen quarterly or even yearly, like cleaning the hood of the kitchen grill.
Failing to do these jobs on a timely basis can result in bacteria buildup and potential food safety problems.
Employee Hand Washing
One of the most powerful tools in public health is proper handwashing. It can prevent the spread of everything from the common cold to H1N1 and Hepatitis C. Your employees should know the correct way to wash their hands versus a three-second rinse under lukewarm water. Demonstrating the correct method of handwashing can help reduce the chances of contamination through food handling.
“All Employees Must Wash Hands” signs should be posted in all your restrooms. Employees should also wash their hands whenever they've handled dirty dishes, raw food, and garbage. They should do so whenever they eat, cough, sneeze, or when they've been exposed to any bodily fluid.
Yes, this makes it sound like your entire staff will be standing at the wash sink throughout most of their shifts, but it's not overly time-consuming, and it's a simple step that can go a very long way toward preventing many kinds of contamination.
The Bottom Line
When you implement a HACCP program and regularly clean your kitchen, and when you educate your employees on good food handling practices, you'll greatly reduce the risk of unsafe food conditions in your restaurant.