The Basics of Food Safety: Guidelines to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses

As a restaurant owner, nothing should be more important to you than food safety. Fail a health or safety inspection and you could get hit with costly fines. More problematic than that, however, is that if your customers learn about your failed inspections or, worse, become sick because of something they ate in your restaurant, you could lose so much business that you are forced to close your doors.

Follow this advice to ensure the food safety in your restaurant:

  • Know the laws. Each city and state establishes different rules for food safety, so ensure that you and your staff are fully up to speed on all the laws that pertain to your geographical location. Remember that a health inspector won’t accept an ignorance of the law plea, so learn the laws and train your employees thoroughly.
  • Create a plan.The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly urges restaurant owners to draft a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) to prevent foodborne illnesses. To get started, reference the “Managing Food Safety: A Manual for the Voluntary Use of HACCP Principles for Operators of Food Service and Retail Establishments,” which provides basic guidelines on everything from food prep to cooking and storage.
  • Keep it clean.It sounds obvious, but it is one of the most overlooked and penalized issues in restaurant kitchens. Dirty surfaces and floors attract mice, rats and bugs of all sorts. Beyond the “ick factor,” those creatures carry diseases. In addition, filthy areas are a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause illnesses. Regularly clean all the nooks and crannies of your restaurant, and hold employees accountable for following daily cleaning protocols in the front and back of the house.
  • Know where your food comes from.Purchase ingredients only from FDA-approved facilities that have been certified for inspection.
  • Prevent spoilage.Store your foods at proper temperatures, and make sure that you are checking them at least daily to confirm that the equipment is working. For example, your refrigerator temperature should fall below 40°F and your freezers should be set at 0°F. Store dry goods in dry, ventilated areas that fall between 50°F and 70°F.
  • Be diligent about expiration dates.Store food in sealed containers that are carefully labeled with the name of the food and the date when you received it, and ensure that employees are using food in the order that it was delivered. Organize your fridge and freezers regularly, and throw out any expired or unlabeled food.
  • Handle proteins properly.Meat, poultry and seafood are one of the biggest culprits of food poisoning, so handle it with care. Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meet and their juices away from any other food. After prepping proteins, thoroughly disinfect cutting surfaces, knives, utensils and dishes with soap and hot water. Tightly cover all protein before storing it in a fridge to ensure that the juices don’t leak into other food.

In addition, follow proper steps when thawing meat and other proteins. Thaw items in the fridge if the juices can’t contaminate other food. Or if you need a quicker thaw, place food in a sealed bag and submerge it in water that is cooler than 70°F or cooler water, and change the water every 30 minutes until the food is defrosted. You can also defrost a protein in the microwave if you cook it immediately afterward. Finally, ensure that you are cooking all foods to the proper temperatures.

Don’t get slammed with costly fines or lose customers because of sloppy food prep and storage practices. Learn the laws in your area, and then follow them to a tee.