Chillin’ Out -
Safe Food Storage and Handling
Food safety is a top concern for every commercial kitchen. As we head into the warmer months, ensuring all foods are properly refrigerated and stored below 40°F becomes more of a challenge. Operators must learn about safe and unsafe temperature ranges, especially in how food is stored and handled.
Time and temperature play a vital role in whether food is safe to eat or needs to be thrown out. We have all heard the adage “keep cold food cold and hot food hot”, which refers to keeping food out of the Danger Zone. The Danger Zone is the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F in which harmful bacteria multiply the fastest. If perishable foods stay in the Danger Zone too long, the food will spoil, meaning there will be no way to kill off the bacteria present.
Here are some of our key recommendations on food safety and keeping food out of the Danger Zone:
Food Storage -
Monitor Refrigerator and Product Temperatures - Most, if not all, commercial refrigerators come with a built in thermometer. We recommend having a second thermometer in all refrigerators in case one is out of calibration. Large walk-ins should have several thermometers in different areas to identify temperature differences and possible hot spots. If your fridge, or areas of it, is warmer than 40°F, your food will never be below 40°F. Raw and cooked food items should also be randomly sampled for proper temperature with instant read thermometers. We advise our clients to keep a refrigerator log and take the equipment temperatures twice daily – as part of opening and closing duties. By getting in the habit of doing this daily, you can identify problems sooner so as not to lose food due to spoilage.
Do Not Overload Fridges - If there are too many items stacked in a refrigerator the unit will have to work too hard to maintain the proper temperature. This could create hot spots where areas of the cabinet are not cold enough and refrigerated food will spoil. Blocking the internal and external air vents of the unit will disrupt proper cooling operation of the fridge, causing temperatures to rise. The refrigeration unit may even stop working altogether.
Proper Refrigeration Maintenance – Make sure that you have a certified refrigerator repair service. All commercial units need to have their compressors professionally cleaned and serviced at least twice per year to keep them in working order. The cost outlay of this service often outweighs the cost of lost food due to spoilage, damage to your units from not servicing them, and possible health department fines. If you are not sure where to find a reputable company, check with your state’s Restaurant Association for a list of suppliers.
Food Handling -
Work in Batches – On hot days, when the ambient kitchen temperatures can be over 100°F, it is a good idea to handle perishable items in batches. For example, when butchering steaks, it is best to take only one or two whole sides of beef out of the walk-in at a time; once the batch is done, place the fabricated batch back into the walk-in before starting on the next. Remember, according to the 2009 FDA Food Code, food cannot be left out in the Danger Zone for more than two hours and it is easy to forget about prep time.
Use Proper Cooling Techniques – Cooked food must to be cooled as fast as possible, so as not to spend too much time in the Danger Zone. All food that has been cooked to the proper temperature must be cooled to 70°F within two hours and then down to 40°F within another 4 hours. Train your staff in all the proper cooling techniques. An example of improper cooling that is all too common: a 5 gallon bucket of hot rice stored in the walk-in straight from the stove; it would still be hot in the center the next morning and have the potential for making your customers very sick.
Use Proper Thawing Techniques - Never defrost food at room temperature. Food must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. There are only three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately after thawing because of the time already spent in the Danger Zone.
Having to constantly check temperatures and observe safe food handling practices may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but as with all things, after repeating the correct procedures over and over, it will become second nature. Making food safety concerns part of the daily routine can only help your business by providing tasty, bacteria-free meals to customers.
Don’t know where to begin? Ask yourself, do you have the proper written procedures and operational guidelines in place to help you be as profitable as possible?
4Q Consulting can develop customized operational guidelines and training programs to meet your needs. Email us today for a free business consultation at www.4qconsult.com.
All original content copyright Noelle E. Ifshin, 2012-2013.