Food needs to be handled correctly from purchase to plate to ensure it’s safe to serve in your restaurants. Safe practices for handling, cooking, and storing food are essential to keeping your customers safe from foodborne illness. For this reason, let the following four principles guide your restaurant operations:
Clean — Wash hands and surfaces often.
Separate — Don't cross-contaminate.
Cook — Heat to the right temperature.
Chill — Refrigerate promptly.
Incorporate the following best practices into every step of your food preparations.
It’s important to be selective when choosing a supplier. Always ensure that the food being delivered is fresh. When deliveries are received at your restaurants, your staff should check the package dates and sell-by dates, as well as the packaging for tampering. For every shipment, product temperatures should be taken using a food probe to confirm items were received within the appropriate temperature range.
Ideally, food should be stored within the proper environment as soon as possible. Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours of shipment receipt. Use a continuous monitoring system to track the temperature of your refrigerators and freezers. Refrigerators should be at 40 °F (4.4 ºC) or below and freezers at 0 °F (-17.7 ºC) or below. Set alerts to notify you and your staff immediately if a fridge or freezer at one of your locations goes outside of that range.
If food isn’t being prepared immediately, freeze fresh poultry, fish, and ground meats within two days; other beef, veal, lamb, and pork within 3 to 5 days. Perishable foods should be wrapped securely to prevent juices from cross-contaminating other food.
Consult the USDA’s cold storage chart. These short, but safe time limits help keep refrigerated food from spoiling and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Before and after handling food, employees should always wash their hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. After cutting raw meats, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops should be cleaned with hot, soapy water. Equipment and surfaces can be sanitized by using a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.
It’s important to always follow proper protocol when thawing meat. The preferred methods for thawing food to ensure safety are as follows:
Refrigerator: The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Meat and poultry should be put on the bottom shelf to prevent juices from dripping onto other food, avoiding cross contamination.
Cold Water: For faster thawing, food can be placed in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerged in cold tap water. The water should be changed every 30 minutes, and the food should be cooked immediately after thawing.
Microwave: Cook meat and poultry immediately after microwave thawing.
Using a food thermometer or probe is the safest way to check when meat is safe for consumption. The following temperatures are considered safe for properly cooking meat.
Beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, & roasts: A minimum internal temperature of 145 °F (62.8 ºC).
Ground meats:Internal temperature of 160 °F (71.1 ºC).
Poultry:Internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C).
This step is frequently forgotten, especially during rush mealtime. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Also keep an eye on the clock for foods holding temporarily between 40 °F (4.4 ºC) and 140 °F (60 °C), as bacteria rapidly grow when food is left in the ‘danger zone.’
Hot food: Should be held at 140 °F (60 °C) or warmer. When serving food at a buffet, keep food hot with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays.
Cold food: Should be held at 40 °F (4.4 ºC) or colder. Keep food cold by nesting dishes in bowls of ice.
Perishable food: Should not be left out more than 2 hours at room temperature—1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F (32.2 ºC).
Leftovers: Use within four days and reheat to 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Establish Good Retail Practices (GRP)
Although the practices covered by this post are important for all food establishments, you’ll want to conduct of GAP analysis of your own operations to develop practices specific to your products and services. Keep your staff engaged and establish a culture of food safety across all your locations. That way best practices become everyone’s responsibility.