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10 Food Safety Tips for Your Commercial Kitchen

A well-run commercial kitchen means maintaining the utmost cleanliness and safe conditions for your food preparation. If you were to accidentally contaminate an area with Salmonella or other dangerous bacteria, your customers and employees could get very sick. You also need to know how to pass any checks done by the local health department, so your restaurant can operate with full certification. This also gives you, the owner, peace of mind.

A commercial kitchen can sometimes be so hectic that it can be hard to ensure everything is done properly. However, it’s your duty and the duty of your entire staff, to make sure that everything runs smoothly. By following these 10 safety tips for your restaurant, you’ll make sure all of the health and safety standards are met and you provide the best for your customers.

Promote hand washing

The most important food safety tip is with hand washing. This means you provide a dedicated hand washing station for your employees. This will minimize cross-contamination and let your employees have clean hands before touching any food, whether it be meat or vegetables. Even the smallest amount of bacteria can make someone sick if it’s on a piece of food, so hand washing is key. All of your staff should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds under running water after soaping up well.

Don’t let sick workers prepare food

The CDC’s Environmental and Health Sciences branch conducted a survey of 486 food workers in nine states. The results showed that 5% of workers said they prepared food when they were suffering from vomiting or diarrhea. By doing so, they put their customers’ health at risk. You shouldn’t need food safety tips to tell you if your employees are sick, keep them away from the food.

Use Gloves

Your workers should be wearing kitchen gloves when preparing food in a commercial kitchen, but they can’t use the same gloves for every ingredient It’s important that they change their gloves regularly when moving from raw meat and poultry to cooked food. If they don’t change their gloves, they can spread contaminants to the customer’s food, which may lead to food poisoning. Have boxes of gloves available so your workers can change them efficiently and properly.

Wash food properly

Make sure your staff washes fruits and vegetables properly. Even if a vegetable will be peeled or skinned, it must still be washed. If you don’t wash them, you risk spreading bacteria from the outside of the produce to the inside as you prepare it. A colander will make the task easier, as long as it is only used for fruits and vegetables, and not any other ingredients, such as pasta or raw meats. Tomatoes require special care, as 12 cases of Salmonella have been linked to tomatoes in recent years. You should never let your tomatoes soak in standing water, but instead, run them under cold water to scrub thoroughly. Fruits and vegetables should be washed under cold running water or with a commercial FDA-approved fruit and vegetable rinse. You can check with your local health department to see which options you may use in your kitchen.

Cook to the right temperatures

If one food safety tip is imperative, it is knowing your food items safe temperature zones.  Is your food being cooked to the right temperature? You should make you and all of your kitchen staff are aware of the guidelines. Chicken, for instance, needs to be cooked to 165°F. The FDA advises restaurants should cook ground beef to a temperature of 155°F for 15 seconds. This is to prevent E-coli, which is found in ground beef and accounts for many cases of foodborne illness. Any type of meat being prepared and cooked in a commercial kitchen should be checked with a meat thermometer for proper temperature. For different types of meat, you should use different meat thermometers. This will prevent contamination of cooked meats by raw meats.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

Food illness often stems from cross-contamination, where you can spread bacteria from raw meat or poultry to ready-to-eat foods. You should separate cutting boards for raw produce, raw uncooked meat, raw poultry, seafood, and eggs. You may opt to label each board with its intended purpose or use a color-coded system. Find what works best for your kitchen, but be sure to keep boards separate from one another. Don’t forget to use separate utensils and meat thermometers as well.

Store food correctly and at the right temperature

All of your kitchen’s raw meat and poultry should be kept separate from other foods, especially vegetables, prepared sauces, and anything else that requires little preparation. The FDA advises food should be cooled to 41°F or below, and should be cooled in a way that provides ventilation, such as in a shallow pan so air can circulate around the food. You also make sure your meat doesn’t drip and contaminate other food. Cut vegetables should never be left out at room temperature, but instead properly stored away. Never store food on the floor either and have a thermometer in the refrigerator, not just the freezer.

Clean and sanitize preparation surfaces and equipment regularly

Your commercial kitchen staff needs a proper workstation and equipment to do their job satisfactorily. Use hot soapy water or a small amount of commercial bleach or cleaner on cutting boards, dishes, countertops and more. Ask your local health department what they require when it comes to food prep and sanitation. Don’t neglect your commercial restaurant equipment either, and be sure you clean it properly as advised by the manufacturer.

Label food well by date

You need to know what ingredients you have on hand, and also when they arrived, so you make sure nothing turns bad and is unusable. Remember FIFO, or First In, First Out. Don’t be afraid to throw out old food that you shouldn’t use. If you’re questioning whether you should serve something, it’s better to throw it out then risk a customer getting sick.

Train your staff

Knowledgeable kitchen staff is good kitchen staff. You need to offer proper training techniques to your staff, so they’re aware of food safety – you may direct them to our food safety tips blog if you find it useful. If you don’t train your staff, they may take shortcuts or forget things, increasing the risk of your customers getting sick. Each new kitchen staff member should be shown the proper way to do something, and should also be given guidelines on what not to do.

If in doubt about any of the tips I’ve shared, you should check with your local health department. Having a good idea of what’s expected will go a long way towards ensuring your customers enjoy their meal, and come back. In doubt on what’s proper for your kitchen? You can visit the CDC website for recommendations, statistics and more. You should also visit to keep up with any food safety recalls, cooking tips, and other important information.

Even More Food Safety Tips & Tricks:

Know the Danger Zone and The Two Hour Rule

The danger zone is a term used by the food safety industry to refer to the range of temperature where bacteria will multiply rapidly, often in as little as 20 minutes. The danger zone is temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F; here is where Salmonella and other harmful bacterias can develop in perishable food. Perishable food is any food that must be refrigerated, such as seafood, poultry, and meat.

It’s important to know how to stay out of the danger zone, and that begins with how long you let food set out. Food removed from refrigeration should never sit for more than 2 hours, and if temperature is above 90 °F, then the food shouldn’t be left out for more than 1 hour. The same goes for any prepared food, such soup, stew and other concoctions. Foods such as these should also be checked regularly to ensure it is above 140 °F in temperature; if the food is cool, you must adjust the temperature and check again in 30 minutes

Stop Bacteria from Growing

Bacteria crave warm, moist areas, as this is where they flourish most. To keep bacteria at bay, make sure that you’re adequately heating or cooling your food within the guidelines:

  • Hot food must be kept at or above 140 °F, and you can use commercial restaurant equipment such as chafing dishes, warming trays and slow cookers to keep temperatures at the proper level.
  • Cold food must be kept at or below 40 °F, kept on ice and refrigerated.

A cold environment means that bacterial growth is slowed, but not absent from your food. Cooked food needs to be stored properly in a shallow container at 40 °F or below within the 2-hour window or else you risk bacteria growth. It’s important to remember that refrigerators, while they can keep bacteria at bay, are still areas where bacteria can grow. Keeping an eye on your raw foods is important as most raw food can only be in the refrigerator for a few days before spoiling and becoming unsafe to eat. Food in the freezer under 32°F will have dormant bacteria, meaning bacteria exist but won’t reproduce.

As you can imagine, bacteria is killed at high temperatures, and once the food nears a temperature of 145°F, it starts to die. The USDA outlines a recommended minimum safe internal temperature for various perishable foods, and the following table comes from their Kitchen Companion: Your Safe Food Handbook. Foods vary by density, size, and how much handling is required to prepare them so the minimum temperatures aren’t a one-size-fits-all recommendation.

The USDA recommends letting meat rest for at least three minutes after removing it from heat before you carve it or eat it.

The best way to measure the temperature of the food is to use a quality thermometer that can give an accurate reading, especially when preparing meat and other dense dishes. You should get a reading by inserting the probe into the thickest section and reading the dial, making sure you aren’t touching a bone, or else you’ll have a false reading.

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