Food safety refers to the proper practice of preparing and storing food in order to avoid foodborne illness. Food safety guidelines are imperative to ensure the health of customers, maximize the longevity of your food products, and develop proper hazard management protocols. Follow these restaurant food safety tips to keep your customers safe and coming back for more of your offerings.

1. Wash Hands Often

For optimal food safety, it is fundamental that all employees wash hands before preparing and handling food and when shifting between tasks. Wash thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.

2. Sanitize Surfaces

Sanitizing and cleaning all surfaces, including prep areas, cutting boards, equipment, storage areas, trash cans, and floor drains, should be an important part of your food safety regimen. This process removes food residue, dirt, and invisible germs from surfaces that may come in contact with food. You must clean and sanitize surfaces regularly to prevent pests from inhabiting them. Pests can spread harmful diseases, such as Salmonella and Listeria, to the food in your kitchen.

Create and implement sanitation procedures for employees to follow on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The following is one example of a simple procedure to use in your establishment that can help keep your work surfaces sanitary:

  • First, scrape and clear the area of debris or leftover food.
  • Next, clean the surface with hot soapy water.
  • To avoid chemical contamination, rinse the surface with water and a clean cloth.
  • Clean the area with a sanitizing wipe or other professional sanitizer.
  • Allow the area to air dry.

Aside from sanitizing products, heat can be used on things like flatware to effectively sanitize. For this, however, it’s recommended you soak the items you are sanitizing in water that’s at least 171 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 30 seconds. Or, you can run items through a high-temperature dishwasher, as long as they are dishwasher safe. Additionally, other common chemical sanitizers include chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium compounds. 

Check out our complete restaurant cleaning checklist.

3. Wash Fruits and Vegetables

All fruit and vegetables must be thoroughly washed to rid of any bacteria and dirt that may be on your produce. The only exception is produce that is pre-packaged and labeled as pre-washed. Use clean, cold water, and opt for a vegetable brush when necessary. For more tips, see our guide to correctly wash your produce.

4. Avoid Cross Contamination

Knife cutting through cucumber on green cutting board with color coded cutting boards behind it

Cross-contamination occurs when harmful bacteria, allergens, or other microorganisms transfer from one object to another unintentionally. Though often invisible to the human eye, the results of this process can be extremely dangerous or deadly to unsuspecting consumers.

Aside from hand-washing, it’s also necessary to use separate products when dealing with different types of food products. Use color-coded cutting boards and separate receptacles for raw meats, vegetables, and produce, and cooked foods. You can opt for a color-coded system to help your staff keep track. Using the proper procedures to avoid cross contamination will also help you avoid allergic reactions.

5. Prepare and Store Foods at Safe Temperatures

Make sure to prepare raw meat, ground meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood at the correct temperature to avoid food poisoning. See our comprehensive guide for in-depth information on food safety temperatures for every type of food product.

Keep Food Out of the “Danger Zone”

Chef holding meat thermometer in cooked turkey

The danger zone refers to temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. For time- and temperature-sensitive foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy, it’s imperative that you keep internal temperatures either above or below the danger zone.

Cold foods should be stored or held at below 41 degrees, while hot foods need to be held 140 degrees or above. As a general rule, these temperature sensitive foods should not stay in the danger zone for more than 2 hours. During this time, dangerous bacteria can grow and spread rapidly. 

6. Pay Attention to Food Recalls

To prevent a foodborne illness outbreak, always be aware of any food recalls related to your food inventory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) frequently publish lists with recalls, so it is important to regularly check these alerts.

How to Prevent Allergic Reactions

Here are some tips for avoiding allergic reactions in your foodservice establishment.

  • Never prepare an allergen-free meal with the same cutlery used on normal dishes.
  • Use designated allergen-safe products in your kitchen.
  • Train staff to properly handle allergy requests from patrons.
  • Ensure staff members are aware of the “Big 8” common food allergies: milk, fish, soybeans, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, shellfish, and wheat.

How to Practice Food Safety in Self-Service Areas

Individually wrapped plastic fork next to corner of plate of food

While employees of your restaurant or buffet may have adequate food safety knowledge, it’s safe to assume your patrons will not. Because of this, self-service areas are especially susceptible to contamination.

  • Frequently clean and sanitize surfaces including serving utensils, food storage containers, sneeze guards, and countertops.
  • Provide flatware, napkin, and straw dispensers designed to dispense single-use items.
  • For added sanitation, provide packets of wrapped flatware to reduce the chance of contamination.
  • Assign employees to monitor guests and take corrective action in the event that unsafe practices have occurred.

Keep your restaurant’s reputation intact and reduce the spread of foodborne illnesses by practicing good food safety habits. Implementing programs that ensure employees both prevent and react appropriately to food safety issues should be an important part of your food service establishment.

1. Practice proper surface sanitation

Your countertop and chopping boards are a huge part of the food preparation process. You use them on a daily basis from chopping vegetables to seasoning meats. If you’re handling any type of food on any surface, you have to make sure your surfaces are properly cleaned beforehand and after you’re done. 

Cleaning and sanitation 

Two words you should have in mind are cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning surfaces means washing off any dirt, grime or food remnants from all food prep surfaces. Sanitizing goes a step deeper to remove surface pathogens. This combination should be a part of all of your surface cleaning regimen.

So what should you use to clean and sanitize your surfaces? When it comes to cleaning, the National Restaurant Association recommends opting for products that are stable, non-corrosive and safe to use. For surfaces, use heat or chemicals like chlorine, iodine, or quaternary ammonium compounds. 

It’s also important to establish a clear cleaning and sanitizing schedule, along with a checklist of things to clean, to assure that cleaning and sanitation becomes a part of each and every shift. Be sure to include your cleaning schedule and policies in your employee training handbook

3. Properly clean certain foods before cooking

It’s not just surfaces and equipment that need to be cleaned. Your fruits, vegetables, whole grains, herbs, beans as well as jars and lids should be washed and rinsed before using them.

Fruits and vegetables 

When it comes to produce like fruits, vegetables and herbs, the USDA recommends washing products under cold running tap water. You can also use a brush for some fruits and vegetables to make sure you remove any residual dirt. Don’t, however, wash fruits or vegetables with detergent or soap, as the detergent could end up seeping into the porous surface of your produce. Instead, you can use a vegetable wash, homemade water and distilled vinegar mix or just good ol’ running water. 

Beans and whole grains 

For foods like beans and whole grains, a good rinse with cold running water will do the trick to help remove any starches, debris, dirt and germs. 


For jars, lids and other plastic, glass or metal packaging, rinsing with water and soap will disinfect the surface of any potential bacteria left behind by others who used them. 

4. Keep track of food recalls

While the majority of your food safety and sanitation efforts are taken care of in the kitchen, keeping track of food recalls that impact your supply chain is essential for ensuring the ingredients you use are safe to serve customers. 

A food or product recall is when a certain type of product needs to be removed from distribution due to a potential or proven safety concern. For example, from 2017 to 2020, we’ve seen several recalls on romaine lettuce due to E. coli outbreaks. In response to those recalls, supermarkets and restaurants removed romaine lettuce from their offering or changed suppliers to assure their lettuce was safe for consumption.

A great way to stay on top of any potential recalls is to sign up for the alerts offered by the USDA or CFIA. Both of these agencies offer email or mobile notifications as well as information on how to handle a recall process or report a problem with produce. 

On top of following government-mandated recalls, always keep an open line of communication with suppliers to ensure you’re getting the news right away if there are any issues with their produce.  

5. Label food names and best-before dates

With different foods coming in and out of your kitchen, keeping track of best-before dates is essential to ensuring you don’t serve ingredients that are past their prime.

It’s also equally important to properly label different ingredients as some might resemble each other in appearance. Ingredients like salt and sugar are one of the many examples of foods that could be easily mistaken with each other.

To be more efficient with your food prep and to ensure you’re using the freshest ingredients, include this information on your food labels: 

  • Food name
  • Quantity 
  • Date it arrived to your kitchen
  • Date it was prepared
  • Expiration or use-by date

6. Store food the right temperature

Proper temperature control is a key player in keeping away foodborne illnesses. Things like raw meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, seafood as well as certain fruits and vegetables and cooked foods, need to be stored at a specific temperature to prevent bacteria.  

The danger zone

Your main enemy in the fight for proper temperature control is the infamous “danger zone”. 

The danger zone takes place when food temperatures are between 40°F and 140°F (4°C and 60°C) causing dangerous bacteria to grow at a rapid pace, spoiling the integrity of the food. This means you should always keep foods refrigerated below 40°F or 4°C and keep hot, cooked foods at a temperature above 140°F (60°C). 

Does this mean that your food will be immediately ruined if it’s in the danger zone? No, but time does play an important factor in how long foods can stay in the danger zone. As a rule of thumb, don’t keep foods out of a fridge for more than two hours.

Proper cooking temperatures 

The right cooking temperature will depend entirely on the type of food you’re cooking. Certain foods like meat, poultry and eggs need to be cooked to a certain temperature to be edible. While the safe internal cooking temperature will be around the same, always make sure to stick to your government or region’s proposed standards. 

7. Avoid cross-contamination

Cross-contamination takes place when bacteria from an object or food is transferred to another object or food, eventually contaminating the food and leading to foodborne illnesses. If not managed properly, restaurant kitchens can easily become a source of cross-contamination. 

Hand washing 

Hand washing is fundamental for preventing cross-contamination. If you’re handling raw meats and later need to prep a salad, for instance, washing your hands between prepping each dish ensures you don’t transfer any harmful bacteria from one to the other. 

Use separate utensils 

Another useful tip is to use different utensils (like tasting spoons, chopping boards or specific knives) for prepping different types of food. 

Having a color-coded system, like green chopping boards for vegetables and fruits, a blue board for raw meats and a red board for cooked meats, helps cooks curb cross-contamination and keep their workspace organized.  

This rule is also true when it comes to preparing allergy-free meals. When a cook sees an order come through the Kitchen Display System and the customer mentioned they have an allergy, the cook can adapt, use utensils that haven’t made contact with that ingredient and assure the dish is safe for the customer to enjoy.

Surface and utensil sanitation

Make sure you clean and sanitize any surfaces where you’ve prepared any raw meats, seafood or dairy products before and after using them. You should also consider cleaning all utensils used for raw meats separately from the utensils used for vegetables. 

Proper storage 

How you store your food is almost as important as where you prepare your food. If you are storing or defrosting any type of meat or seafood in your refrigerator, contaminants can easily seep into other foods and transfer dangerous bacteria. 

Store any raw meats, seafood and poultry on the bottom shelves of your fridge and cooked foods, raw vegetables and fruits higher on your shelves. This ensures that liquid from your raw meats doesn’t trickle down onto other ingredients. 

Food handling training 

While there are always things you can teach your staff about food safety, it’s important that they have formal training and certification as well. 

food handler’s license is a permit or certification that covers food safety topics and training specific to your state or province. Having staff that are certified on food handling ensures they have a firm grasp of how to consistently uphold food safety standards.

8. Maintain your restaurant equipment

Ensuring that your restaurant equipment is in good condition should always be on your list of priorities. With daily and rigorous use, it’s normal for equipment to show signs of wear and tear, your objective should be to use them for as long as possible. 

Here are some preventative restaurant maintenance practices for keeping your equipment in good shape:

  • Keep a log of scheduled maintenance and dates
  • Create an equipment cleaning schedule 
  • Train employees on proper equipment use and maintenance
  • Turn to your equipment manual or supplier for product information or issues

Remember, if you want the best results, make sure to take good care of your everyday tools!

Food safety is an ongoing task

If you work in the hospitality industry, keeping customers safe should be a top priority. Whether there’s a global health crisis like COVID-19 or it’s a regular day on the job, following food safety regulations need to be a part of everyday life for anyone in the food industry. 

Everything you do on a regular basis should strive to actively prevent health code violations and uphold food safety standards. This means taking all the necessary steps to always ensure you’re running a tight ship!