Food safety in restaurants: you are what you serve

The Center for Disease and Control Prevention estimates that 48 million people in the United States get sick each year from foodborne illnesses. Foodborne illnesses are preventable and minimizing their occurrence is one of the most important aspects of running a restaurant.

While you can’t be perfect, making sure your restaurant food meets health department standards is key to avoiding lawsuits and fines. In addition to accessing state-specific health codes, there are food safety tips you can follow to ensure you serve everything in amazing conditions for your customers. You can remember these tips by following the 4 Cs, which are cleaning, cooking, cooling, and cross-contamination.

Making Restaurant Food Safety a Breeze: The 4 Cs

The first C is cleaning, which is important when prioritizing restaurant food safety.
There are a ton of federal regulations imposed by the Food and Drug Administration regarding employee cleanliness and facilities to prevent foodborne illness.

To ensure that the facilities are clean, there are a few things you need to make sure the staff members know.
Thoroughly clean all equipment between each use. For example, clean counters and grills between uses, then clean ovens and fryers every night during closing chores.

Wash dishes often and make sure they are washed well. Your kitchen staff should clean the preparation area as often as possible. Make sure your staff use hair nets to keep their hair back and wash their hands after using the toilet and handling food, such as raw meat. In case they need a reminder, you might want to add hand washing signs in the bathrooms as well as in the kitchen.

Rules, rules, rules: cooking, storage and refrigeration guidelines

The next two Cs, cooking and refrigerating, are key to preventing the spread of foodborne illness. You must follow cooking, storage and refrigeration guidelines to serve safe food.

Make sure the food you store has appropriate, easy-to-read labels. Improper labeling of meat or leftovers could lead to allergic reactions or foodborne illness.

Use a thermometer to make sure the meat you’re cooking is at the right temperature.

  • Fresh beef, pork and elk must have a minimum temperature of 145°F.
  • Poultry and game birds should be 165°F.
  • Ground meats should be at 160°F.
  • Fish and shellfish of all types should be 145°F.

Fully cooked poultry, leftovers and cooked meats can be eaten cold. Reheat other items to their original temperature to ensure meat freshness and health. If food is to be left outside, temperature records should be kept, ensuring the temperature is as high as necessary.

Although the kitchen staff check the temperature after the food is cooked, staff members must inspect it again before it is distributed to customers for safety reasons.

Point of sale checking meat temperature restaurant food safety

USDA Says “Be Smart, Keep Foods Apart”

Cross-contamination is the last C, and it’s very dangerous. When harmful bacteria transfer between different foods, utensils, or cookware, cross-contamination occurs.

However, more than just bacteria can contaminate food. Viruses and toxins move easily from food to food. If you clean areas where you prepare food, toxins from the cleaner can contaminate the food. If a foreign substance comes into contact with food, then it is cross-contamination.

The primary concern when dining is raw meat, poultry, and seafood. These raw foods and their juices should be kept away from cooked foods and fresh produce. Therefore, you should have different storage areas for different types of food.

To avoid cross-contamination, keep cooked foods away from the preparation area. When you’re done using raw meat, make sure it’s well sealed and not leaking so it can’t come into contact with other foods.

Finally, kitchen staff should change gloves when switching from preparing raw meat to other foods. By taking these precautions, you will ensure that the food in your restaurant is not contaminated and that your customers remain healthy.

See also: A Complete Guide to Foodservice Licensing You Need to Know Before Launching Your Restaurant

Other Food Safety Tips for Restaurants

While the 4 Cs are important, there are other tips you can use to have a healthy restaurant environment.

Remember that food allergies exist

Food allergies are very common and you need to be aware of them so you don’t have an allergy-related emergency on your hands. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) researchers estimated that 32 million Americans suffer from a food allergy, so you’re likely going to deal with it on a regular basis.

According to FARE, eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat and shellfish are responsible for 90% of food allergic reactions. Since you can’t get rid of a food allergy, your clients will try to avoid foods so they don’t experience an allergic reaction.

Allergic reactions can range from hives, rashes and dizziness to anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction.

Servers and front desk staff need to know what food allergies are common and be able to give customers an idea of ​​the ingredients that make up menu items. For backroom kitchen staff, ensure they properly wash supplies after use or have designated utensils and equipment to handle requests from guests with allergies.

Finally, it is always a good idea to have an emergency allergy protocol in place in case a client needs help.

Have the right tools for the job

Even if you have the best staff, it takes the proper tools to maintain restaurant food safety.

Make sure you have all the tools you need. For example, you need to have proper storage spaces and shelves to hold ingredients and keep the kitchen clean. The dishwasher should be able to clean and sanitize dishes and glassware, and you should have thermometers to check the internal temperature of food before delivering it to customers.

While you might have all of these things ticked off now, they might deteriorate later. It is essential to constantly check your equipment and do maintenance so that you have the best tools and the best technology to provide the best food.

The Secret to Restaurant Food Safety Isn’t Really a Secret

Train employees on restaurant food safety guidelines. Although it may seem like a daunting task, the health of your customers is worth the extra effort.

Actively work to provide the best possible food safety for your customers and your restaurant, because lawsuits and poor inspection results are no fun for anyone. Ultimately, you want to build a restaurant and a reputation that you’ll be proud of. Restaurant food safety is one of the most critical ways to ensure your restaurant’s success, so why not do everything you can to put food safety first?

About the Author

Morgan Davis

As a Marketing Assistant for Shift4 Payments, Morgan creates relevant and engaging content for She uses her hospitality background and PR knowledge to engage small business owners on an information platform. Morgan graduated from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in 2019 with a BS in Communications/Journalism and a concentration in Public Relations.

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