Any business which deals with food service has the critical task of keeping their food preparation areas clean. This ensures happy chefs and cooks, good hygiene standards, and above all, happy & satisfied customers served with great food. If an outlet or an organization fails to adhere to correct food safety measures, there is the likelihood of food poisoning, which may lead to health concerns for people who are consuming the food.
Clean as you go, wash hands regularly, avoid cross-contamination, maintain the right food temperature (while storing, cooking, and serving) are some of the common principles for food safety.
A business needs to follow the code set out by the state food safety department.
First, let’s concentrate on cleaning areas that can be broadly classified into three regions-
- For washing dishes/utensils/equipment & food items
The utensil cleaning area needs to have a 3-compartment sink with dual drainboards– this is essential for washing, rinsing, and sanitizing equipment. It may further be added that the sink size should be large enough to accommodate the washing of the largest equipment used in the facility. The pressure and temperature of the water, hot and cold, should be adequate.
- Personal hand-wash for staff (food handlers and kitchen staff)
- Hand washing facility to be available to all employees at common locations such as food prep area, food dispensing area near dishwasher /pot-wash area, and restrooms. Handwash sink to be used only to wash hands and should have
- a hand-wash soap
- dryer (paper towels or air-dryer)
- running water supply with adequate pressure and hot and cold water availability
- Washing utility equipment
A separate utility sink for cleaning mops, table cloths, and towels is placed far from the food preparation area.
Handling of Kitchen Tools, Utensils, and Equipment to Prevent Contamination
As per the food safety codes, the prevention of food contamination is a paramount concern. For this, it is imperative to have proper cleaning and sanitization of all contact surfaces, including utensils and equipment used for food preparation. Before reusing any equipment, ensure to wash and clean them properly. All food and equipment to be stored in a dry, clean, and moisture-free place where they are not exposed to dust or contamination. As common sense will tell us, food should not be stored near toilets, garbage rooms, or under leaky pipes, stairwells, and any other place where it could potentially be exposed to contamination. All the equipment and food surface areas should be safe, durable (non-corrosive and non-absorbent), and easy to clean. All food prep equipment such as flat-top grills and stoves should be easily movable to allow cleaning or installed to enable six-inches clearance between floor and equipment.
Food Preparation, Handling/ Processing, Packaging & Storage
The establishment’s floorings should be constructed of smooth, durable materials and to be well maintained with timely repairs if required. Areas include food prep areas such as the main kitchen, walk-in refrigerators/freezers, restrooms, staff locker areas. There should be no carpeting in any place where the floor is subject to moisture like walk-in refrigerators, ware washing areas, toilet room areas, and refuse storage room. Wall and Ceiling to have smooth surfaces. All fixtures like light, vents, and fans are easily cleanable. Food prep areas and storage areas to be well lit to avoid any accidents. Food storage spaces should be handled with proper segregation of food types to prevent cross-contamination. For instance, ready-to-cook food should not be kept together with raw foods. All raw animal foods, dairy products, cold cuts, or frozen foods should be stored separately with proper temperature controls.
Recommended: Importance of Cooling Food Correctly
Hot & Cold Holding Areas
When kept in improper holding temperatures, food products spread germs and bacterial growth, which leads to contamination. Use thermometers to keep the temperature check and ensure that cold food holding temperatures fall under 41°F. Any food that has a temperature of 42°F and above falls in a danger zone and should be disposed of safely. Similarly, for hot food, holding temperature should not be above 135°F.
Restrooms, Locker Rooms & Laundry Areas
Restroom facilities should be provided for all team members. Restroom or washroom should not open directly into a food processing area. As a general safety rule, maintain a fifteen feet distance between the toilet door and the food processing area. Other areas of importance are team member lockers; these should be used only for staff changing to their work uniform, parking area to be concrete. Laundry should be managed in clean, hygienic ways to avoid contamination. Dishwashing machines to be installed in the right way. Potable water supply to be available.
The facility should have good ventilation for the prevention of grease or condensation on walls. Good, cleanable ventilation must be in place to keep the facility free from condensation, foul odors, smoke, and fumes.
Storage of bulk food should be done in bins that are clearly labeled and can be washed. All storage bins to have a secure lid.
All floors, which require water cleaning should have covered drains. Plumbing systems should be installed in a manner that there is no backflow of water. A proper sewage system should be installed to allow smooth disposal through a public sewage system.
Restaurant kitchens should follow systematic garbage disposal following the protocols as per the food safety codes provided and include separate bins for refuse, recyclables, and returnables. Containers for food waste or residue need to be durable and be easily cleaned. Food waste bins to be resistant to insects, rodents and should be leakproof.
Hiring the right set of staff
Getting a job in a restaurant may be an easy task when you bend the rules by a bit but making the wrong kind of hire can cost you dearly when tragedy strikes in form of inspection. The state of Utah dictates that anyone working in the restaurant business and being involved in any stage of the food preparation or catering should be a certified food handler. Getting one is not a herculean task and certified institutes such as Easy Food Handlers can help you get food handlers permit by providing useful resources and guidance in the same.
Running an establishment serving food is nothing less than a battlefield during peak hours, with orders coming from all sides. Keeping your calm and ensuring that your kitchen remains clean and up to code as such crucial times requires nerves of steel but by sticking to the tips mentioned here, your work will be substantially simplified.
In the restaurant as well as the hospitality industry, food handling is a crucial aspect. This is not restricted to food preparation but also how the ingredients were procured and how the food is handled before reaching the customers’ table. It is very important to keep the food out of the temperature danger zone i.e., the range between 41˚F and 135˚F where any microbes in the food can multiply faster.
This is not an issue when you are preparing food fresh and it is being served to the customer immediately while the internal temperature is >165oF. When the prepared food is not served in a short while after taking it off the stove, you need to properly cool it to pass through the danger zone rapidly. You may consider putting it in the refrigerator soon as the food is prepared but this is hazardous in two ways:
- The hot food will increase the overall temperature of the refrigerator and put other stored foods at risk
- The refrigerator needs to work extra hard to keep the internals cool and this causes a spike in the utility bill and is not an energy-efficient move.
So, you need to take additional steps to cool the prepared food properly and avoid any microbe multiplication.
Common Reasons for prepared food not cooling quickly
Depending on multiple factors, you may have difficulty in cooling the prepared food quickly enough to avoid the food remaining in the danger zone for too long. Let’s see the common reasons:
Too Large Stored Volume
When you place a large container in the refrigerator, owing to the high volume of food stored inside, the food doesn’t cool evenly. The cooling happens radially with the outer surface getting cooler while the core still remains hot. So, you also run the risk of overcooking the food at the core while waiting for the food to cool down.
When storing specialized food such as different cuts of meat or deep pan dishes such as lasagna, shepherd’s pie, etc. the dense portions make it difficult for them to be cooled evenly.
Deep and Narrow Containers
Deep and narrow containers are great for preparing food items such as soup, broth, or stews but not ideal for storing them in the refrigerator. When the food is placed in deep bottom pans instead of shallow containers, the food inside takes more time to cool.
Recommended: Food Handlers Permit: How to get a fresh one, renew it, or claim a lost one
How to cool down prepared food properly?
Derived from the reasons mentioned above, to cool food quickly, you can use any of the following methods:
Divide the food into smaller containers
Dividing the food into smaller containers, you reduce the volume while increasing the surface volume. Smaller batches mean the comprehensive time taken for cooling would be significantly less compared to cooling it in a single container.
Metal Utensils cool faster
This might sound like a piece of advice that need not be mentioned, many restaurant workers tend to overlook such a small mistake. Stainless steel or cast iron utensils are thermally conductive and hence can transfer heat quicker than insulative materials such as plastic, glass, or silicon.
Use Ice or water baths
The sudden drop in temperature can cause microbes to become active and multiply faster. Placing the prepared food in a container that is immersed in water or an ice bath, you can gradually lower the temperature but this would be quicker than air cooling. It helps a lot if you keep stirring the food while in a bath as it allows the air to circulate through the food while being cooled by the bath. When cooling down liquids such as soups or broth you can drop in ice cubes or frozen vegetables to help with reducing the temperature.
Loosely wrap while refrigerating
While placing the food in a refrigerator, loosely wrapping it allows cold air to enter and bring the temperature to 41oF. Once cooled, you can close the container with an airtight lid to prevent any further contamination.
Useful Tips while cooling food correctly
- The overall food temperature needs to be reduced to 41oF within six hours of taking off the stove. The process can be broken down into two sections
- The temperature should come down to 70oF within two hours
- The temperature should come down to 41oF or lower within four hours
- Invest in a food thermometer. Periodically check the temperature to ensure proper cooling. If the food hasn’t reduced to 70oF within two hours, you need to reheat it and bring it to 70oF.
Things to consider while thawing/reheating food
While thawing out or reheating the earlier cooled food, never thaw at normal room temperature. Use any of the following methods to do so:
- In a walk-in refrigerator (where the temperature doesn’t exceed 41oF), keep the cooked food in the lowest pan, right below the ready to eat foods.
- Place it in a container and thaw under running water of 70oF or lower temperature
- Non-interrupted thawing in the microwave
- Place in boiling water as part of the conventional cooking
Food handling is difficult but with time and practice, it will become easier. All you need to remember is how to cool prepared food and reheat later. It would be suggested to label the food containers with important information such as time and date of preparation. This and much other vital information regarding food handling is available in the food handlers certificate that acknowledges your in-depth information about handling food professionally.