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How to Maintain Food Safety in Your Restaurant

Restaurant Food Safety Basics

To practice food safety to its fullest extent, you need to create a culture of food safety within your restaurants. There are many things that go into this process and every single restaurant has different things that they need to worry about. However, the two main goals to creating a culture of food safety are: creating a safe space for your employees to work, as well as a place that your customers don't need to worry about getting sick from your food.

We’ve all seen restaurants in the news that have food safety scares. The results from these can be devastating to their reputation and to the future of their business. 

It can all be a bit overwhelming and scary to think about, but here are some guidelines to help you create a culture of food safety in your restaurants.

1. Get Your Reporting Done

Getting all of your reporting done on time is so important;  we’re talking about line checks, cooling logs, et cetera. When you have those done regularly and thoughtfully, a visit from the health inspector is really a stress-free event. Do not be scrambling with your paper logs at the end of the day!

2. Make Sure Your Staff Knows the Food Safety Protocols

Each food item is different from the handling instructions to the shelf life information, et cetera. They're all different. For example, an item such as chicken, one would have to know how to handle, store, heat and cool them properly, versus an item like potatoes. One would have to ensure that everyone who handles either of those food items would understand how to handle them so that they would be safe to consume.

3. Keep Cleaning Lists

Mandate that your staff keeps cleaning lists: clean the bathrooms, kitchens, and dining rooms regularly. Make sure that your restaurant is clean for your customers. Also, have daily lists, items that are done every day, weekly, and monthly. 

4. Hire the Right People

Hire the right people who want to help create a culture of food safety with you. We’ve all worked at restaurants where you see your coworkers eating the food in the back. Hopefully those aren't the kinds of people you want to be working with.

5. Remember, Nothing is Perfect

It’s important to keep this in mind, When something does go wrong, own up to it and strive to do better. Your community will appreciate it and you'll do it better in the long run. 

In the end, food safety management is about more than just doing the bare minimum to pass a health inspection. It’s about doing the right thing and investing in the future of your restaurant.

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Operations of a Restaurant Kitchen

How should you maintain food safety in your restaurant from an operational perspective? What are some of the things that you need to keep in mind when running a kitchen in order to maintain food safety? 

It's a lot more than you would think.

If you’re a franchisee you’ll most likely have fixed menus with minimal changes besides the rotating seasonal items. Either way, you want happy customers. That can come down to two things: putting the right people who are properly trained in the right seats, and doing the prep list and preparing for what you should do, plus a little bit more, so you can grow your business.

Those are the things that people think about when they're managing a restaurant, running the kitchen, overseeing operations etc. But, as we all know, there’s so much more that goes into it. Here are just a few of them that most people probably haven't thought about. 

Food ordering, for example. You need to order the right food with the right amounts and processes need to be in place to do that. Otherwise, you are either wasting food or short on stock. 

Equipment maintenance is another one. Customers are able to rate you based on how clean you are, which means your equipment needs to be well-maintained. 

And what about things your customers can’t see, like your exhaust vents? Even if your customers aren’t looking in the back, your insurance company or the health inspector just might. These should get a good cleaning every six months or so. That doesn’t mean sending employees crawling into the ducts to scrub them, but basic care is important.

If your exhaust fans break all the time, it’s going to negatively affect the quality of compressors on your coolers. This means your refrigeration units that are so important to food storage are going to be compromised.

What’s technology like at your restaurant? Do you have printers, point of sale inventory systems, an online ordering system? How is that technology integrated with everything else you have? That’s another consideration to keep in mind for the daily operations of a restaurant.

You’re probably responsible for profitability as well. That’s ordering food, taking inventory, portioning – all of this can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars! Restaurants are a game of small victories when it comes to profitability, so keeping operations sleek and optimized is critically important. 

The Simplest Way to Track Kitchen Logs for Food Safety Inspections

Do you want to do well with inspections? Who doesn’t want to avoid fees, legal issues, and bad public perception, right? Well, a lot that goes into performing well in food safety inspections is putting processes in place that you follow rigorously every day. 

Certainly, if you want to get as good a score as possible, there are a few key points. First of all, have everything organized and ready to go for the inspector when they come in. Have the reports out, don't make them ask to see what they're looking for, be prepared to answer any questions that they may have. This should always be something that you're reviewing with your staff and in your manager’s meetings.

One simple tip that can really help you is to point out some of the issues that may have come up during the last inspection, if there were any, and show the inspector that you’ve taken steps to remedy them. Show that you’ve listened to them and are taking them seriously and they're going to be much more apt to work with you.

Let's face it, a health inspector may only come by once every 18 months in certain states. It’s supposed to be more frequent, but it’s easy for them to fall behind because of their workload. Certain inspectors will come by twice a year if they’re really on top of their game, but even that is infrequent enough that you may forget what you’re being tested for. 

So, put a system in place that allows you and your team to check these things on a regular basis. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a week – talk with your managers about what you missed last time and the common issues that have happened in the past. Suddenly, it will feel naturally ingrained and not such a burden when the time comes.

Finally, if you want to do well on these inspections, realize that this inspector is here to help you. They want you to do well. They want you to feel like they're listening and that you're listening to them. And frankly, they have a big workload. They don't want to have to come back and do your location again. So have a positive attitude and treat them with respect. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

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Why You Need Cooking and Cooling Logs

There are many reasons to keep accurate cooking, cooling, and other food safety logs, not the least of which is that you don't want to manage by tribal knowledge alone. Think of the telephone game, where information is passed along by word of mouth and the end result is usually completely wrong. Having food safety log standards set in place helps you communicate and enforce the standards. 

 

Creating an itemized checklist that you're using in your restaurants helps you communicate that knowledge to your employees. And if you don't have these in place that’s where the trap of tribal knowledge comes in.

 

Food safety logs go far beyond cooking and cooling. There are prep lists, inventory, waste tracking, clean list, line checks, and much more. All of these, even those that don’t directly deal with food, play a role in food safety at your restaurant.

 

However, having these processes in place is only part of the equation. You need to ensure that they’re being followed every day which is why reporting is so important. Accurate reporting logs will give you actionable advice and feedback that you can bring to your staff. 

 

It’ll also bring to light action items for yourself, for example, maybe during a line check someone noticed the refrigerator isn’t working properly and now you can call a repairman before it becomes a major issue. By being proactive, you just saved yourself the headache of letting a whole refrigerator of food go bad (reducing food waste!) or perhaps needing to buy an entirely new unit.

 

Cooling logs, in particular, are very difficult to track without a standard process in place. It’s also an area where you have a lot of liability. It's very easy to lose track of not properly cooling an item like chicken or beef. There have been a lot of places that have had foodborne illnesses that have come from people not following proper procedures. 

 

We’ve all seen the headlines in the news when major food chains are reported for food safety issues, and this is typically because they’re not following the food safety procedures carefully enough.

 

If you don't have processes in place, it’s only a matter of time before you see negative consequences. The law in this area is going to become more and more stringent in its enforcement and reporting requirements. Don’t be the next restaurant in the headlines!

Restaurant Sanitation Regulations and Ratings

What would you say are some of the biggest reasons restaurants get scored poorly for sanitation? The big ones that are obvious to the customers are poor sanitation and cleanliness. Dirty restaurants turn off customers and will cause you to have bad scores. 

Another top reason for a bad score is pest control which should be an absolute priority for even the cleanest of restaurants. Not only are bugs and rodents an obvious turn-off for customers, but they can lead to some potential food sanitation problems. 

To avoid negative scores, it’s important to stay proactive by keeping good kitchen habits like proper dating and labeling of foods, storing at the right temperatures, and reporting. We also recommend having a certified ServSafe manager on staff because it can go a long way with health inspectors.

When it comes to reporting, one thing a lot of people don't think about regarding paper binders is that they’re being touched by many different hands and often get covered in food. And as you're passing it around, it could be a good way to dirty up an otherwise clean kitchen. It’s like a petri dish of germs.

The Importance of Good Ratings

So, why is it so important to get good ratings? Well, the stakes are high, right? Results are frequently published in local newspapers, many states require you to post your last inspection results, and it can impact your reputation. 

As you probably know, these scores can really stay with you. Nobody really cares that you get an A on your inspection, they expect you to have a good score. But if you fail, it will be news. With foodborne illness, we have all seen restaurants close or struggle for years. 

Good ratings also help with retention because if your employees know if you've got a good restaurant they’ll be proud to work there. And the long and short term benefits of employee retention on the success of your restaurant are through the roof.

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It’s really important to get good health inspection scores and you need to run a clean restaurant if you want to grow and prosper these days.

Why Restaurant Safety Goes Beyond Food Sanitation

Restaurant safety is a priority for every manager and owner, but the truth is food sanitation is only a piece of that puzzle. 

Having good safety practices that are clearly outlined and closely followed will not only save you money but will create a safer environment for your employees and your customers. We all preach food sanitation for the safety of our customers, but the truth is that it’s your own staff who are just as vulnerable. 

Your staff are the ones handling and preparing the food and if you don’t have good processes in place you’re going to be set up for failure. You owe it to them to provide a safe environment in which to work.

Food sanitation is one area in which you can’t judge a book by its cover. Some of the cleanest restaurants that you’ve been to have some of the worst food preparation and safety standards.

Ask yourself, are you getting your prep lists done on time? Do you leave walkways free from boxes and other materials that could be tripped on? Are you clearly marking wet floors? Is your staff following proper glove and hair net procedures?

Let’s Talk about Workers’ Comp

If you’re closely monitoring your workers' comp claims, you’ve probably realized that a large percentage of your claims were on cuts. Have you mandated that your staff has to use safety gloves when cutting items in the kitchen? Make it a rule and say if they’re caught cutting without gloves they will be terminated. This will help protect your business but also show your staff how serious you are about safety.

Challenge

Take this as an opportunity to look back through your workers’ comp claims. What patterns are you seeing, and what steps could you take to limit these patterns in the future?

What is Sanitary Food Handling? Guidelines for Food Safety and Sanitary Food Handling

When you think about sanitary food handling, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Probably a kitchen employee washing their hands, right?

Hand washing is a critically important part of food safety, but there’s so much more to it. Sanitary food handling means having clean surfaces, clean utensils, hairnets, no cross-contamination, and more.

The other item that is fundamental is personal hygiene. That means hair restraints, proper gloves, aprons, calling in if you’re feeling sick, etc. It’s on each individual employee to take this upon themselves to practice good personal hygiene and the manager’s responsibility to make sure that they do.

Even little things, like how utensils and glassware get handled play a role in maintaining a sanitary restaurant environment. Obviously, you expect your employees to have clean hands when preparing and serving food, but they should also take care not to touch the top of the plates or put fingers inside a glass.

Food Preparation

Are you going to wash or rinse your vegetables before you serve them? There is some debate in the industry as to whether or not you need to buy a machine to rinse them thoroughly underwater, or just wash them by hand in a sink. 

 

You should also be rewashing the cutting boards and sanitizing the utensils each time they’re used. 

 

Furthermore, think about how the average customer sits at the table. They take their utensils out of their rolled-up napkin, put the napkin on their lap, and put the utensils on the table. So, how clean are your tables? You can’t just take a damp towel and wipe them off – they need to be cleaned with antibacterial soap after every single use.

Proper food handling also comes down to cooking at the right temperatures. For example, raw chicken needs an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be fully cooked, and then needs to cool at the right temperatures. If you miss that window, the chicken needs to be discarded. You also have to store it at the right temperature in their own specified and clean containers. 

It’s not a good food handling procedure to store anything in leftover containers. 

Why You Need Line Checks in Your Restaurant Workflow

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to put line checks in place so you create a system in your restaurant in which everyone knows the right procedures and what their role is. Particularly with line checks, food safety has gotten very important and has come to the forefront more than ever.  

Every restaurant or cafeteria that serves food needs to be doing line checks at the start of a shift and throughout the day. This includes both the front- of- house and the back- of- house. This ensures food safety and allows any food mistakes to be corrected immediately. This helps create a safe environment for both the employees and the customers. Having line checks in your restaurant workflows will help set your restaurant up for success. 

Having efficient line checks helps to motivate the employees and keep the employee morale up. Line checks should be done consistently and is a great training tool for all employees. If line checks are efficient and consistent, everyone has a job, which in turn gives them a sense of purpose. It makes employees feel like what they are doing matters.

By putting line checks in place, everyone in the restaurant knows how you're monitoring food safety, the customer experience, cleanliness, and more. We've all been to restaurants where we see people eating in the kitchen or starting to struggle when things get busy. Without these processes in place, you're just winging it and you're dependent on tribal knowledge.

Not having line checks in place and a proven system is a hard way to run a business and will present many challenges. Sometimes, the training and retraining can seem a little repetitive and silly and your team might give you a hard time because “they already know this stuff.” But if you don’t keep line checks top of mind, your team will start to think that they’re not important and will start taking shortcuts. 

You don’t want to work at your restaurant every single day, every single hour that it’s open, do you?

When you put line checks in place, you won’t have to! Those guidelines will work perfectly for you. Even if the manager's off for the day, you can have confidence that the restaurant is running well and keeping people safe because it’s totally ingrained into the culture. 

How to Create a Restaurant Sanitation Checklist Your Staff Will Use

Any manager in the world, regardless of what industry they’re in, knows what it’s like to implement rules and processes that their staff simply doesn’t follow. This is especially true in the restaurant world, which has many young workers and entry-level employees. 

For something detrimental to a restaurant, such as sanitation, how do you get your team to buy in and follow it religiously?

Yes, it’s possible to create a restaurant sanitation checklist that your staff will use. First of all, simple checklists in themselves are such powerful tools. They’re a great way for people to visualize their tasks and track their progress in an efficient way.

It’s important to know when to use a checklist and when not to use a checklist. Not everything needs a checklist! For instance, if you're doing a front-of-house safety checklist, it’s probably not necessary to include, “turn on the dining room lights.” Setting up the checklist from the start needs to be clear, concise, and include only what’s absolutely necessary which is the best way to ensure that the important things are getting done without overwhelming or annoying your staff.

The timing and cadence is also super important. If you ask your staff to perform a bathroom check an unrealistic amount of times, like every five minutes, they’re simply not going to do it. And then your checklist isn’t getting done. Set the number of checks you have in a day for a practical amount that they can fit into their own schedule.

Of course, you definitely want to aggressively check and sanitize the bathrooms, but even a 20-minute standard would be difficult to uphold when you’re busy, and probably unnecessary if the restaurant’s empty. 

Get Employee Feedback

You should get feedback from your team if you want your rules and processes to stick in your restaurant. One idea to get your employees to engage is through a daily streak. Studies show that gamification goes a long way to getting employees to care about what they’re doing. 

[BLOG POST: 4 Ways to Gamify Your Restaurant Employee Experience

Another idea is to send a nightly email with updates, accolades, and success stories to encourage your team to buy-in. Call out specific people for a job well done and create a sense of competition. 

Start out in baby steps so you don’t overwhelm your team. If you want to institute these policies in your store, don't pick 50 items. Pick one thing and when they do that, applaud them and then move onto the next. Avoid throwing the kitchen sink at your team by giving tons of work with little explanation or clear guidelines. Checklists work well, but common sense has to prevail.

How to Simplify Daily Restaurant Logs

Keeping accurate restaurant logs shouldn't be a complex and time-consuming process. There are a lot of programs out there that can record them digitally for you, which is more reliable because it keeps all users following the same system so you don’t have to worry about the logs looking different based on who’s there that day. 

With digital logs, all you have to do is log in and follow the directions. If you’re using paper, you need to make sure that your staff is trained and you've got standards in place. Some examples of logs you can do digitally are prep lists, restaurant operations, food safety, front-of-house and back-of-house checklists and many more. 

By simplifying your logs digitally you will save time and money. Digital logs will help eliminate pencil-whipping your food safety logs for your health inspections. It will keep your team accountable and you will get reporting in real-time and that will create a peace of mind.

The old and outdated practice of the paper binders in restaurant kitchens is long gone. No more dirty and stained covered paper logs. No more worrying about logs getting done on time. Digital logs help improve restaurant operations by keeping your team members organized and accountable.

To make recording your logs simpler and easier, you should break them out into little pieces so it's easy for people to get them done every day. By breaking them out into little pieces you will be able to have multiple team members doing logs at the same time if necessary. People like to feel like they're checking stuff off the box. 

More importantly, if you have 50 items that you need to check off in a day, you’re better off putting them in groups of five and dividing the tasks up instead of having one big log that one person is responsible for. You can arrange it by sections in the restaurant. This helps make things run more smoothly and efficiently resulting in time and money savings.

The other thing that you could do to simplify the logs is to do them at the same time every day and make sure the reporting is very easy so people can provide feedback. It’s a very simple system and really it's just a matter of being consistent. 

There are a lot of ways that people can get bogged down within their operations, but by taking some care to map out how and when you're going to do these logs rather than haphazardly trying to get it done during the shift makes a huge difference.

How to Avoid Food Poisoning in Your Restaurant

Giving someone food poisoning has to be one of the ultimate nightmares for restaurant owners and one of the top things that can hurt a restaurant's reputation. 

We’ve all seen the famous cases in the news that have affected restaurants for years and once it’s out there, it’s associated with their brand forever. 

So what are some of the basic things you can do to avoid this? 

Believe it or not, most of it follows common sense and the good thing is that they're not that hard to follow every day. First of all, be absolutely over-the-top with hand washing in your restaurant and be equally crazy with cleaning off surfaces because cross-contamination from raw food that you're serving is one of the most common ways people get sick.

Going Back to Basics

A lot of the basic things that work, especially now that everyone is so much more aware of viruses and pathogens, are switching out utensils frequently and making sure your sanitizers are up to date. 

One of the real keys that many restaurants kind of lose track of is cutting boards. Use a cutting board for one item and then wash it and get a different cutting board. This (hopefully) should seem obvious, but when you leave cutting boards sitting around and you're chopping vegetables with them and then raw meat without washing them first, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets sick. 

If you want to avoid food poisoning, then you should have good food safety standards in your restaurant.  It’s as simple as that. 

It’s also helpful to make sure you have good reporting so you and your staff know what’s expected of them and can track the effectiveness of those tasks. Not only does this make it easier for them to complete those tasks, but it lets them know how important they are to complete.

Proper Food Sanitation Best Practices

When you think of the gold standard of restaurants, what qualities come to mind? Amazing food? A well-trained staff? Great atmosphere? Location?

How about food sanitation?

This is one of those things that people take for granted because you probably don’t think about sanitation every time you dine out because we sort of expect things to be clean.

Being considered a “gold standard” for food sanitation would mean that everyone on staff knows proper food handling practices, believes in the importance of them, and sticks to it every day. It can’t be something that’s taught in new-hire training and then never spoken of again.

This includes things like taking food temperatures, appropriate cooling times, cooking at the right heat, thorough utensil and dishware cleaning, proper appliance maintenance, hand washing, clean uniforms, and more. Food containers are labeled and dated clearly so there’s limited waste and no customers are served spoiled or expired food.

So, how do you reach that “gold standard” level?

One of the best ways to improve your food sanitation practices is to create a good cleaning checklist and use it every day. It’s management’s responsibility to ensure that their team has clear expectations of what they’re supposed to do and make sure they stick to it. 

Some things like cleaning the bathrooms or mopping the floor are obviously done every day. If you keep up with things like this, then it never builds up to a place where things get so bad you need to have a “cleaning party” with your team. Sanitation becomes just a way of life in your restaurant.

Just like in your home, cleaning the dishes when done with them, will eliminate the build-up that could feel like an overwhelming mess. And if you keep your home at a certain level of cleanliness, you never have to do spring cleaning!

It’s easy to let things slide here and there in the kitchen when things get crazy, but the best restaurants have processes in place and enforce them every day.

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