When the food in your kitchen is unsafe, you jeopardize yourself, your staff, and, worst of all, your guests.

Food safety is no joke. Even if the taste and quality of a dish are perfect, the restaurant’s aura is delightful, and the customer service is impeccable, a case of food poisoning can overpower the entire experience and leave restaurants in dire straits.

Developing an airtight food safety program can be overwhelming—food storage, temperature vigilance, staff hygiene, employee training, and selecting the proper disinfectants and sanitizers are only some of the factors involved. Below, experts on foodservice safety and sanitation weigh in on the best methods for simplifying your safety plan, making sure that your food—and your guests—stay protected.

Ruth Petran | Vice President of Food Safety and Public Health, Ecolab
Mandy Sedlak | Manager of Food Safety and Public Health, Ecosure

Contamination of surfaces contributes to 13 percent of all foodborne illnesses. Clean in-use food contact utensils at a minimum of every four hours. Food contact utensils should be washed, rinsed, sanitized, and stored dry on a clean surface. Food contact equipment in continuous use and operated at the proper hot and cold temperature should be cleaned at a frequency of every 24 hours.

Non-food-contact surfaces of equipment should be cleaned at a frequency necessary to preclude accumulation of soil residues. The best practice for self-serve areas is to assign personnel to monitor, clean, and restock; store utensils used for food or ice handles up; offer pre-packaged utensils or dispensers; and store serving utensils in clean, food-safe containers in good repair.

For drink dispensers, clean nozzles and dispensers daily, air dry after washing, rinsing, and sanitizing, and keep a regular cleaning schedule, such as at the end of the shift. Do not assemble the drink station until open. This is a good visual cue the dispenser has been cleaned. Cover pourers and spouts overnight, have an effective pest control program in place, and proactively ensure drains, floors, and counters are cleaned on a regular basis.

Kevin Scott | Director of National Account Sales, ComplianceMate

The most simple, immediate way to up your food-safety program is to make sure all staff are trained in the basics, starting with hand washing. Personal hygiene is the No. 1 cause of foodborne illness per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other elements of this area should also be taught—how to clean gear, when to stay home from work when sick, reporting of prohibited items in the kitchen, etc.

There are rules for cleaning food contact surfaces based on the nature of the food prep and items being prepped. All food contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized at least every four hours during operations. Otherwise, this is generally done when there is a change of task.

The bottom line is that bacteria never sleep. When suitable conditions for growth are present—the temperature danger zone (TDZ) is 41 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit—one bacteria cell at zero minutes can grow to 1 billion cells in 10 hours. At four hours, there are enough cells present to make someone sick. This is why it is so important to respect the TDZ and also why it is critical to know what is happening to your food during the hours staff are not present.

Eric Pearlman | Vice President of Marketing, RB Professional

An operator can take every conceivable precaution with food and surfaces, but if the staff has not properly washed hands and is not wearing proper protective equipment, then it is all in vain. Hand hygiene should extend beyond the kitchen staff to the front-of-house staff as well. These employees are on the front lines regularly handling fresh food and removing dirty dishes in the same pass. The operator should also lead by example. Many times, unspoken cues such as seeing a manager wash his or her hands throughout the day emphasizes the importance of clean hands. Soap and water should be readily available, so staff can wash hands without disrupting the ware-wash operations or having to hike to the other end of the restaurant to use the public restrooms.

Keeping cleaners and sanitizers in a visible location will keep them from slipping out of sight and out of mind. Procedural signage is also a great visual reminder to staff of when, where, and how to clean and sanitize. Most importantly, it should be seen as part of the job, not a task for the “new guy” or the worker that arrived late that shift. Each employee should be responsible for the area they work in.

Elise Lenz | Senior Product Manager, Sani Professional

Most food contact surfaces are located in the back of the house. The FDA Food Code requires food-contact surfaces to be cleaned and sanitized; in order to sanitize, these surfaces must be cleaned first. This needs to take place throughout the day.

Choosing the right product for ease of use, ease of training, and compliance is an important decision. There are liquid/spray sanitizers that can be used in the “red bucket” with a reusable rag. These products have their own list of steps to ensure compliance, such as ensuring the rag stays submerged in the bucket in between uses, ensuring the liquid is mixed to the proper concentration and stays within that range during use, and ensuring that the liquid is changed every two to four hours or as needed. A pre-moistened, disposable, no-rinse sanitizing wipe is an easy to use, intuitive, and compliant cleaning and sanitizing option for back-of-house operations.

The education and training of all of your staff, both front and back of house, are critical to ensuring food safety across your operation. Choosing easy-to-use cleaning and sanitizing products will also simplify staff training.

Feature, Food Safety, Leader Insights