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.