Preventing Food Poisoning in Commercial Kitchens

It seems more and more we hear stories of a food-borne illness running rampant somewhere. Often, the strains of bacteria responsible are traced back to a restaurant or commercial kitchen and some unsavory practices by the kitchen staff. As a restaurant or commercial kitchen operator, what steps have you taken to make your environment safer for handling and serving food? Here are some tips you should make sure are in full practice in your dining establishment.

  1. All staff should wash their hands often. Whether or not each member of the staff comes into contact directly with food is irrelevant. Each member of your staff will either come into contact with patrons, food, cooking equipment, beverages, dinnerware, or even the rags that wipe off the tables your customers sit at.
    • Not limited to kitchen staff. Ensure host, wait staff and even bussers get in the habit. Managers should lead by example.
    • Take the 20 seconds you need to wash hands properly.
    • Install hand washing sinks and sanitization stations throughout your establishment. It is not reasonable to make trips to the restroom to wash hands during a busy dinner rush. Get those sinks put in near prep stations, the bar, the kitchen and near coffee/drink stations. Make sure there is plenty antibacterial soap at handwashing stations.
    • Hand sinks are for handwashing only. Do not allow dishes or foods to be put into those sinks.
  2. Properly manage the food temperature danger zone. Food-borne bacteria has a thriving temperature zone, between 41 and 140 degrees F. Meats, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, cut and peeled fresh produce, shellfish, cooked vegetables and pastas, sauces and any foods containing any of the listed items should not be consumed after having been in that temperature zone for more than two hours.
    • Keep hot foods hot, above 140 degrees. Use hot food holding cabinets, shelves, and other commercial food warmers to maintain proper temperatures.
    • Keep cold foods cold. Use refrigerators, freezers, refrigerated displays and food wells to ensure cold food stays cold.
    • Do a regular audit of equipment thermometers to ensure readings are correct.
    • When in doubt, throw it out. Food items don’t have to be “spoiled” to have collected its share of bacteria in the food temperature danger zone. Keep a tight eye on the time.
  3. Avoid at all costs cross contamination of raw foods to read-to-eat foods. Most contamination of this sort comes in the way of raw meats or fish, but extra care should be taken in the cleaning and sanitizing of areas like prep tables, where many types of ingredients are prepared.
    • Ensure all cutting boards are properly labeled. Do not use the same cutting board for meats, poultry and fish as you would for vegetables and fruits.
    • Do not put cooked foods back on the same tray/platter that held the raw food.
    • Use separate knives and utensils for cutting raw foods versus cooked.
    • Clean and sanitize all food work surfaces after each task. Rinsing is not enough.
    • Don’t forget cross contamination can happen if a food preparer touches raw food then ready-to-eat food. Make sure the staff knows and understands the proper procedures.
  4. Properly wash, rinse and sanitize all kitchen cooking and preparation equipment. This means everything, not just the equipment food comes into contact with. Bacteria can grow on most things. Make it a regular habit to properly scrub, rinse and sanitize ALL equipment.
    • Everyone in your charge should know “2 teaspoons per gallon” for food contact surfaces. This refers to a bleach to water solution. Plastic cutting boards can be sanitized stronger with solution of 2 Tablespoons per gallon of water.
    • Break down slicers and clean and sanitize all blades.
    • Splatter from fryers and grills are one area of primary concern. These areas should be cleaned often throughout the day.
    • Most often overlooked preparation area is the food sink. This should be washed, rinsed and sanitized after every task. Do not assume it has been done, if it appears there is nothing in the sink. The human eye cannot see bacteria.

If you apply all of the above directives, you will drastically reduce your food-borne illness probability. A lot of focus has been put on the kitchen and food prep. Operators of fast food chains should pay special close attention to the workers on the front line. Sandwich makers often wear gloves, but will accept money wearing the same gloves. Most food-borne illness prevention is common sense. What common sense measures do you use in your commercial kitchen?


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