Last year, 2020, was challenging for small businesses to say the least. Restaurants, a group highly impacted by the pandemic, struggled to stay open and profitable, and even more faced inevitable closure.
On a positive note, consumers have changed alongside the COVID-19 restrictions; now more than ever, more people appreciate the opportunity and enjoyment dining in a restaurant may bring. In fact, Finances Online states that 90% of consumers say that going to restaurants is enjoyable.
Due to this returning influx of customers ready to experience dining outside of their own homes and many restaurants still in business, owners are focusing on food safety and management practices to ensure that 2021 is a success.
To help with these endeavors, restaurant industry expert Abraham Herrera shared his thoughts and advice on the 10 Best Food Safety and Management Practices for Restaurants in 2021.
(1-4) Can you explain the 4 basic principles of food safety: chill, cook, cross-contaminate, and clean?
Prior to chilling, it is important to understand why the food should be cooled; this is done to prevent any bacteria or pathogens from growing in the food. To do this, time and temperature must be carefully managed.
You will need the required equipment to properly manage; ensure you have a wall clock in your kitchen and enough thermometers for your employees to use. These two tools are essential to successfully chill the food to 31 degrees or below in 6 hours or less. These 6 hours are divided into 2 different phases: (1) food temperature is decreased to 70 degrees in the first two hours, and (2) food temperature is cooled for 4 additional hours to reach a low of 41 degrees.
Start with calibrated equipment. For instance, you will need to use a surface thermometer to calibrate your flat top; it should read 350 degrees after calibration. With that being said, the next step is to cook the food to the right temperature. There are 4 different brackets, with the first being the highest temperature, 165 degrees.
At 165 degrees, cook all poultry including chicken, turkey, duck, or any other poultry. In addition, cook any food that is stuffed such as ravioli, dumplings, and pupusas.
At 155 degrees, all chopped, ground, diced, or minced, with the exception of ground chicken (cooked at 165), should be cooked.
At 145 degrees, you should cook whole cuts such as ribeye, filet mignon, pork chops, and all seafood. This is the minimum cooking temperature; you cannot cook below 145 degrees unless you have a permit from the local regulatory authority.
135 degrees is the minimum cooking temp for fruits and vegetables, if and only if, you are going to keep them hot for future use. If you are serving them immediately, you can do this or serve them cold, like celery sticks or broccoli. 135 is also the minimum temperature to maintain hot food at a hot temperature.
To avoid cross-contamination, there are several different best practices you can follow; one of which is preparing the food at varying times of the day. For example, you can prep vegetables in the morning and mix in the afternoon. If you’re unable to do this, you can use different colored cutting boards to delineate the food groups: green for vegetables, red for meats, yellow for poultry, white for dairy, and blue for seafood.
To avoid cross-contact, which stems from potential allergens, you will need to keep potential allergens clearly identified and in a specific area of the restaurant. These allergens include milk, eggs, nuts & peanuts, fish and shellfish, wheat (gluten), and soy.
It is important to not confuse cleanliness and sanitizing. The two are entirely different. Cleaning is getting rid of things on the surface, or things that you can see. Whereas sanitizing is eliminating pathogens, like viruses and bacteria, that you cannot see.
To sanitize, you have two choices: hot water or chemicals. If you are using hot water, you need to make sure the water is at least 171 degrees, or almost boiling. If you are going to use chemicals you have three choices: chlorine, iodine, or ammonia.
The recipe is simple: water and your choice of chemical; keep in mind that the amount of chemicals and the temperature of the water is very important. For instance, if you choose to use chlorine, the temperature needs to be tepid, or lukewarm. The amount of chemicals needs to be validated with a testing strip; it should read 100 PPM (parts per million).
The most common chemical that you will find in a restaurant is quaternary ammonia (QUAT). The water needs to be at room temperature and between 200-300 PPMs to use this. Iodine is another chemical that you can use, but it is less common due to its lack of cost effectiveness.
5. How would you advise a manager to conduct an environment check in their restaurant?
You will need to have a daily routine in which everyday you go through a checklist. The checklist will entail the most critical points: check your deliveries, and monitor time and temperature, good personal hygiene, and staff employee behaviors.
6. What are your top tips for restaurant cleanliness and keeping your back-of-house environment clean?
I call this the “beautification" list since I have added my personal touches. We all want the restaurant to look brand new. This means that your janitor’s routine is crucial and the following should happen whenever necessary: take the trash out as soon as possible, clean as you go, wipe up spills right away, and keep the sanitizer bucket on each working station.
7. What kind of back-of-house equipment maintenance needs to take place, and at what frequency?
Eventually all of the equipment needs to be cleaned or sanitized and maintained. Always follow the equipment guidelines.
Occasionally, based on the equipment or the volume of the operation, equipment may need to be maintained more frequently. For instance, most manufacturers recommend for ice machines to be cleaned twice per year, but I have found that cleaning at least once a month is a better practice to avoid mold in the ice chute.
When cleaning the ice machine, make sure you check the gasket (rubber part in doors where they close) for mold accumulation. Filters on the condenser unit in the walk-in coolers and freezers also need to be changed with regular frequency; I suggest at least twice per year. This is to prevent the compressor from overworking, thus extending the life of the compressor; this is a money-saving tactic.
Frequency of cleaning other parts of the ice machine and dishwasher:
The filters on the hood need to be cleaned once per week.
The actual shaft on the hood and the exhaustion system should be cleaned every quarter.
The dishwashing machine needs to be delimed once a month.
8. How often should you replenish your materials such as disposable products, food garnishes, and others found in the expo line?
Gloves are single-use disposable items. Other cleaning items such as scrubs, sponges, aprons, linen towels, and cleaning rags found in sanitizer buckets need to be refreshed as needed, but at least every 4 hours. The reason for this is that they are all in contact with potential contamination and are exposed to the elements constantly.
The physical appearance of a disposable product such as those mentioned above can be deceiving. For example, let’s look at aprons. A chef may wear an apron that looks clean to the eye, but is not; the apron picks up dirt, bacteria, and other contaminants, as the chef moves about the restaurant.
9. What is your advice for a restaurant team to better handle time pressure during a high volume time of business?
Proper planning is the best way to handle time pressure during a high volume, and orchestration is the result of proper planning. Proper planning at the beginning of the shift means: aces in place, like front runners, are in place, stock line is full to avoid running out of product, proper equipment is available and clean, and your highly motivated staff is present and focused.
10. What kind of employee training and education should a manager expect and/or provide to their employees?
Whether a new hire, promotion, or ongoing training, proper training is the key to success. To be clear, ongoing training not only includes the technicalities of such a position, but also company culture and motivation.
The most important thing is to instill clear expectations. Although your staff knows what to do, your staff still needs your guidance and leadership to help get them there.
I hope my advice above helps to guide you all, chefs and managers, through the year 2021. If this was helpful, please share with other professionals, and remember, I am here to share my expertise with you anytime. I encourage you to take a course with me to extend your knowledge and skills in this industry; sign up to take a food safety course with me today.