How to Maintain Food Safety in 3 Key Areas of Your Restaurant

Astronauts, icy microbiological colonies, and slabs of drippy meats. At first glance, these could be the nightmares of science fiction and horror movies. In reality, each has a link to food safety.  The restaurant business is a high-risk environment. Without the proper food safety procedures, your establishment could be the feature of the next John Carpenter movie.

Around the shadowy corners of each booth and behind the prep tables are three of the most commonly overlooked areas where food-borne illnesses can spread: receiving, storage, and ice machines.  

Receiving at Proper Temperatures

The HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) system was developed in the 1960s between NASA and Pillsbury for creating safe food for astronauts. Today, this prevention-based system is used throughout the food chain from farm to table. For a restaurant, following HACCP procedures isn’t rocket science. This approach to food handling will minimize any biological, chemical, or physical hazards.  

HACCP procedures start as soon as food is delivered to the back door. Check food temperatures as soon as product is unloaded from the delivery truck. Cold food and produce should be below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. Frozen food should be at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Recording receiving temperatures on invoices is an easy way to keep track of your data. All deliveries should be moved to the appropriate cold, frozen, or dry storage areas immediately to minimize the risk of food falling into the danger zone.

Set receiving times so food deliveries do not stay at the back door or outside, and receive during slow times. If deliveries are showing up during the lunch rush, there is a larger chance that cold food will warm or thaw. If food sits outside, critters and birds can contaminate food and its packaging. Finally, remember FIFO (first in first out) by dating all products with the date they are received to make sure that product is being turned appropriately and to minimize waste.

Reject any deliveries that arrive out of the safe temperature zone. Reject any deliveries where raw fish, meat, or poultry is stacked above prepared food or fresh produce to avoid cross-contamination. No one enjoys conflict, however, having an uncomfortable conversation with your delivery driver can help you avoid uncomfortable conversations with the health department, sick children, and lawyers. If you have a supplier that consistently breaks and bends HACCP protocol, find a new one.

Minimize Cross-Contamination in Storage Areas

Now that you have all the food for the day at proper temperature and stored, look to make sure that it is being stored correctly.  

Keep meats and fish separate from fresh produce and prepackaged items, like cheeses. Sort and store meats by safe cooking temperature, and follow the guideline below:

  • Top shelf: Ready-to-eat foods
  • Second shelf: Whole fish
  • Third shelf: Whole beef and pork products
  • Fourth shelf: Ground pork and beef
  • Bottom Shelf: Raw poultry

If space in your cooler is limited, just remember that cooked food should always be stored over raw food. Raw chicken juices dripping over whole watermelons is a nightmare in disguise. To stay within food safely compliance, wrap or cover all foods and use bins with lids for smaller items, like whole apples or lemons.

Other cardinal rules: Never store food products in a dishroom or dishwashing area. Always keep cleaning supplies away from food and stored separately, usually near or under wash sinks.

Ice Machine Cleaning and Maintenance

If you think you can wait another day, week, or month to clean your ice machines, think about this: The FDA lists ice as a food. Serving customers dirty ice is akin to serving water in glassware that hasn’t been washed in weeks.

But what kind of “bad stuff” can really grow? Pick any or all of the following: biofilm, mold, mildew, slime, scale, bacteria, and fungi. And if the inside of your ice machine looks pretty in pink, it is most likely related to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Commercial machines will tell you via display screens, lights, or other notifications that it is time for a deep cleaning or a water filter change. But not all machines are created equal, and reading a series of flashing lights without your owner’s manual can make you turn away to more openly pressing tasks. Simply look at your ice. Is the cube size smaller than normal? Is it softer than you would expect ice to be?Is it cloudy instead of clear? Does it smell or taste funny? If you said yes to any of the above, it is time to clean and sanitize your ice machine. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use approved chemicals or sanitizers.

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A few extra notes to treat your ice like a precious recipe and protect against contamination:

  • Change water filters regularly
  • Always use an ice scoop; never use hands or glasses to scoop
  • Clean ice scoops and bins daily.

Forget the myth that because ice is frozen, viruses and bacteria will be eliminated. In fact, both can hibernate quite well in your ice machine. Microbreweries and bakeries will need to clean ice machines more often due to airborne yeast that can lead to microbiological colonies to grow in ice machines.

Just remember, good ice made with filtered water through a clean machine will make your sodas and hand-crafted cocktails taste much, much better.

Taking control of these three key areas in your restaurant will let you shift your focus to safe food handling, fantastic dishes, and superior operations. All it takes is a dash of protocol and a pinch of standard operating procedures to ensure first-class food safety. Let Rotten Tomatoes review bad movies, not be the standard in your kitchen.