Food Safety in Restaurant Kitchens: Safe Products in 4 Steps

March 6, 2015
  For most Americans, dining in a restaurant—be it high end, fast casual, or quick service—is a daily luxury. According to a study by the USDA, we eat out, on average, at least one meal each day. When choosing a restaurant, consumers take many factors into account: availability of healthy options, cost, atmosphere, and simple personal preference. What consumers take for granted is that wherever they choose to eat, they assume their meal will be made with wholesome ingredients, prepared and stored in a way that keeps the food they’re eating safe. (Keep in mind that “wholesome” doesn’t always mean “healthy” but rather that the ingredients are not spoiled or adulterated.) But how does a restaurant know that it’s consistently making safe food?  Most states require at least someone on each shift to have ServSafe® training. This is a great place to start.  Beyond that, however, there are many ways that a restaurant can ensure that the food they serve is as safe as it is delicious, and those practices start before the ingredients even come through the door. The following are a few practices that are easy to implement, and will get your business on the right track.

Risk Assessments of Raw Ingredients

First, do a risk assessment of what your highest risk foods are.  Meats, dairy, eggs and other allergens are generally the highest risk items coming into a restaurant. If you are buying any seafood, it’s important to have confidence that it was harvested ethically and processed correctly (this includes kelp and sea vegetables).  All meats, poultry, and seafood that are processed in any way must be done under a Hazard Analysis for Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan by federal law. While meats and poultry are generally USDA inspected, a restaurant would be wise to trace the seafood back to the source every so often to check that it is being processed legally.

Risk Assessments of Kitchen Techniques

Once the raw ingredients are in the kitchen, they are transformed into the restaurant’s signature dishes.  But what are those transformation processes?  Searing? Frying? Baking? Sous vide? Cold smoking? Curing? Assessing the risk of your chef’s processes is the next step. Many high-risk processes must have a HACCP plan that is written and approved by an inspecting authority like the Department of Health or the Department of Agriculture. Techniques that come from all over the world are now found in many restaurant kitchens. Conforming them to American food safety laws can be a complex process, particularly if you want to get creative. For example, parts of the animal that may have once been thrown away could be repurposed using sous vide, some curing salt, and spice, into charcuterie that a chef could charge a premium for. This is great for the bottom line, but it’s imperative that the chef understands not only how to make the dish, but also the regulations that they work under, and specifically how high risk processes require HACCP plans. In today’s climate, inspecting bodies are increasingly cracking down on kitchens that perform sous vide and other methods of charcuterie without a HACCP plan in place. If your chef is using high risk cooking methods, you need to be proactive in putting a HACCP plan into effect, or aware of the possible consequences.

Consider the Road to HACCP

If you decide that your restaurant kitchen needs a HACCP plan, a whole new set of safe practices come into play.  Sure, you already have policies on personal hygiene, but what about preventive maintenance for kitchen equipment?  What about an approved supplier program?  Most chefs trust their distributors, but it’s also important to know—and have documentation about where the high-risk ingredients are being processed and if the distributors have adequate recall plans.  There was a massive and expensive ground black pepper recall last year (contaminant: salmonella) and many small distributors were forced to spend significant time and money tracking down and retrieving the contaminated stock. What does all this boil down to?  Inventory control – tracking the food items that go in and out of the kitchen and when. Inventory is money, and the best run restaurants understand that inventory control is not only key to profitability but also has significant food safety implications. Shrink and loss due to rotting or poor food safety standards is money needlessly thrown away.

Make Food Safety Part of the Plan

In any restaurant, good business planning is tied to solid food safety procedures. The days of successful businesses operating without business plans are gone, and when dealing with food, the best business plans must incorporate food safety planning from the beginning. A culture of food safety in your kitchen, and among all of your staff, is key to serving the best food possible. Start with food safety, and you’ll end with satisfied customers.

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