Restaurant Food Safety: 8 Things You Need to Know

By Caroline Cox | 4 min read

It’s no surprise that safety is important when it comes to running a successful business — a restaurant is no exception. Even so, it’s probably not something you think about regularly. And with all that goes into effective restaurant management (scheduling, inventory, training, customer service, and the million other things in between), who could blame you?

But if you’ve ever seen a restaurant get blasted online for failing a health inspection, or even closing down because of it, you know food safety is crucial to success. Plus, you never want someone to have a negative experience (whether that be an allergic reaction or illness) due to lax food safety procedures at your eatery.

The strategies laid out below will help you keep your restaurant well within food safety requirements, and ensure your team follows suit.

1. Be strict about hand washing

It may seem obvious, but hand washing is a key component to a healthy restaurant kitchen — and most people are doing it wrong. Shopkeep reports that hand washing takes at least 20 seconds, includes hot water and antibacterial soap, then ends with thorough drying. 

At this doesn’t just apply to after the bathroom. Hand washing should take place after handling any raw meat (including fish or poultry), touching a phone, handling trash or dirty dishes, eating, smoking, sneezing, coughing, or blowing one’s nose. 

2. Remind staff that unexpected health inspections happen

Your team should be operating as if a health inspector could walk through the door at any time — because they could. Health inspections are often unannounced, and the scores (along with the inspection documents themselves) could be posted online publicly. 

It helps to remind everyone — from your hostesses and dishwashers to your chefs, servers, and bartenders — that restaurant food safety is a top priority. (And, no, the inspector doesn’t care that you were just cutting corners because the dining room was busy.) When you make it a core value of your business, employees are more likely to implement it into their everyday routines.

3. Know how to prevent allergic reactions

Cross-contamination can have dire consequences, from allergic reactions to death. This happens when bacteria, allergens, or other microorganisms are accidentally transferred onto a surface. Meat, seafood, and poultry are common culprits since they can carry things like E. coli and salmonella.

To avoid cross-contamination, it’s wise to have separate, designated utensils and equipment for allergy-safe meal prep. Experts also advise making your team aware of the Big 8 common food allergies: wheat, milk, shellfish, regular fish, soy, peanuts, eggs, and tree nuts. Being mindful of keeping inventory at the proper temperatures is also key, which brings us to…

4. Keep an eye on temperatures

It’s an understood rule that keeping ingredients at the proper temperatures is one of the most important steps you can take in terms of food safety. First, you want to keep perishable or prepared foods out of the “danger zone,” which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. You also don’t want this food sitting out any longer than two hours.

When it comes to cooking, the Department of Health has clear standards. By using a heat thermometer, you can ensure your cooked food meets these temperature guidelines:

  • 160°F for ground meats
  • 165°F for poultry, casseroles, and microwaved meat
  • 155°F for sausage and hamburgers
  • 145°F for eggs, fish, beef, and pork
  • 135°F for heated veggies, already-prepared dishes, soup, and hot dogs

And even if you suspect an ingredient might have reached a danger zone temperature? To the trash it goes.

5. Make sanitizing (at least) a daily process

Since servers’ post-shift side work is often done with hastiness, it’s a good idea to have wiping down and sanitizing areas be part of the beginning of a shift as well. This way, the restaurant can be prepped with clean towels or dish rags for cleaning tables after plates have been cleared and guests have left.

Food station areas, the warming window, and prep areas should be wiped down multiple times during shifts if possible, to prevent buildup. Once a month or so, a deep clean is probably in order. You can hire an outside crew or leverage your current staff to do things like polish the wood and wipe down vinyl booths (nothing too strenuous or grimy). And, of course, be sure to offer a nice incentive so they feel valued for their work, like pizza or VISA gift cards.

6. Always have a stash of gloves on hand

Gloves are a necessity when working in a restaurant kitchen. They can save your kitchen staff from having to wash their hands excessively, which is particularly time-consuming during a dinner rush. 

While gloves are great at keeping food germ-free, you should switch them out when toggling between various food items. Make sure you have a variety of sizes on hand, and that everyone knows where they’re stored.

7. Update equipment and other items as needed

Cloth napkins starting to look ragged? Silverware not so shiny anymore? Glasses looking cloudy? Menus fading? It may be time to update your supplies. You don’t want dingy dinnerware being served, and having your chef use dull cutlery isn’t great for anyone involved.

Take a little time to do a visual check-in of your serving items as well as your front- and back-of-house supplies. You don’t want to be wasteful, but you also don’t want to have your restaurant looking rundown by using equipment that’s way past its prime.

8. Send sick employees home

It may seem obvious, but sending sick employees home not only keeps germs at bay, but it also promotes a healthy work environment for your whole team. After all, you don’t want someone to feel like they need to work their shift just because they couldn’t find someone to cover for them.

You don’t have to flip the script on your whole restaurant managing process to ensure food safety. It’s about illustrating to your team that restaurant food safety standards are a high priority, and putting a few best practices in place that become habits. That way, you’ll have peace of mind that your restaurant is always operating with cleanliness and safety in mind.

At Gather, we’re helping restaurants take their events to the next level. To find out what we can do for yours, let’s chat.

Caroline Cox
Content Marketing Manager

Caroline Cox is Gather's Content Marketing Manager. She spends her time crafting blogs, thought leadership pieces, case studies, social media content and more, helping empower restaurants and other event venues to streamline their planning process and grow their events programs with success.

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