Restaurant Food Safety Guidelines To Help You Avoid the Danger Zone


Restaurants, institutions, eateries, and home kitchens are all charged with one task. Keeping diners safe from food poisoning and food-borne illness.

A misstep in food safety can cost more than a little stomach medicine – for a professional eatery, it could spell the end of your business. Just ask McDonald’s how it feels to face a food safety scandal. The company’s Japanese division is forecasting a $156.7 million dollar loss – its first in eleven years – for 2014.

The culprit? One of the company’s chicken suppliers wasn’t following food safety standards.

Thousands of restaurants worldwide face food safety and storage issues each year, and although big chains can usually control the damage, many independent eateries never recover.

If you don’t want to be a statistic, keep reading. There are a few basic steps you can take to keep your patrons, bottom line, and reputation safe.

Avoid the Food Danger Zone While Cooking and Holding Product

Cooking product and serving it are two areas that seem fairly straightforward, but are loaded with potential food safety hazards. That buffet line you are so proud of could be your downfall if you aren’t careful, and a cook who doesn’t know his meat temps could lead to a law suit later. Use the info in this chart to keep your food in the safe temperature zone.


Food Temperature Danger Zone Overview

Las Vegas is a city where restaurants come and go – only the good ones stick around. Firefly was a popular hangout, located just a few blocks off the main strip. On April 26, 2013 it was closed after a salmonella outbreak sickened more than 200 patrons. Inspectors visited the restaurant and found food stored at improper temperatures and employees not following food safety guidelines.

To keep your restaurant away from the limelight and your patrons healthy, keep cold food below 41F and hot foods above 140F.

Keep an eye on cold and hot storage temps, and record them every hour. Make sure food temperatures are correct before serving, and make sure your cooks serve meats and eggs that are done according to food safety guidelines and customer requests.

Step By Step Instructions For Checking Cooking Temperatures

Your kitchen most likely uses digital instant read (thermistor) thermometers or bimetal instead read dial thermometers. If your restaurant prepares baked meats, digital oven-safe thermometers may also be on hand. What you cook and the type of thermometer you use change how you check the temperature.

Here’s how to take food temperatures, step by step:

  1. Clean your thermometer thoroughly (before and after) – hot, soapy water does the job.
  2. Push the pointed end of the thermometer into the thickest part of the food you’re cooking.
  3. Wait 10 seconds for a thermistor reading, 20 seconds for an instant-read dial thermometer’s reading, or 1-2 minutes for an oven-safe dial thermometer’s temperature reading.
  4. If your food is at a safe temperature, remove it from the oven.
  5. If you are making a dish that uses eggs, poultry, or ground meat, check the temperature in a few different places before assuming it’s ready to pull out of the oven.

The list below is a handy guide to keep on hand – it lists safe cooking temperatures by food type. Otherwise, let it keep cooking and check the temperature regularly until it reaches the correct temperature.



Additional Precautions

Food safety isn’t just about temperatures – like we just tackled, or storage – which we’ll get to in a minute. When old product slips to the back of a shelf, it can go bad without being noticed, potentially contaminating new product or sickening customers if it slips into preparation without being caught. Some foods require careful washing before preparation, too. Others can make food-borne illness more likely if you wash them. Read on for tips on tackling proper food washing and rotation.

Date and Rotate and Throw Away

If you don’t do anything else, do this. Not only is labeling required by law, it keeps your product fresh and your customers happy. Health inspectors look for rotation, too. Food labeling isn’t as simple as slapping a piece of masking tape with a date on to product containers or trays. Masking tape can leave a sticky residue where bacteria flourishes. There are specific labels made for indirect contact with food. Popular brands include DayDots, FreshMarx, and DayMark.

Employees who deal with stock should know how to correctly label and rotate stock, and how to safely dispose of old or spoiled product. Federal and state laws vary on how to correctly date your stock, but one thing is certain – you can’t afford not to.

Washing Food

This might shock you, but not all food should be washed before cooking. Washing meats, fish, poultry, and eggs is asking for problems like cross-contamination and food-borne illness. Make sure you wash your hands after dealing with these products, though – otherwise, you’ll be spreading germs everywhere.

Fresh fruits and vegetables should always be rinsed carefully, but don’t use soap or detergent. They can leave a film behind that isn’t safe to ingest. Some industrial cleaning solutions for produce area available too, but if cold water does the trick, why spend money on cleaning agents you don’t need?

Storage and Rotation Tips for Restaurant Food Safety

Following food temperature safety guidelines is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent bacteria from growing.

Food Storage Guide

Refrigerator Storage

Maintain all refrigerator storage at or below 41F. Keep thermometers in the warmest and coolest areas of your refrigeration unit, and check temperatures frequently. Record temperature readings when you check them – you’ll be able to spot a problem in a cooling unit quickly if you are paying attention. That can spare you food safety problems and lost product.

NEVER store uncooked meat, poultry, or fish above prepared items. Storing raw product on top puts your prepared product in danger of contamination – remember Sizzler?

Clean your refrigerators frequently, but make sure that your product is kept below 41F while cleaning. Temperature fluctuations can shorten the shelf life of product and encourage bacteria growth.

Place a refrigerated food storage chart on the door of your refrigerator, where employees can easily see and follow it.

Freezer Storage

Professional freezers should be kept below 0F. As with refrigerated product, check the temperature of your freezer regularly and record it.

You need to clean your freezer frequently, but prevent product from thawing and refreezing during this process. That means putting your product in another freezer during regular cleanings. Take advantage of the time and defrosting your freezer. Doing this once a month will help extend the life of your freezer, while keeping product safe.

NEVER refreeze thawed product.

Make sure that a frozen food storage chart is placed in plain sight, preferably on the freezer door, so that employees can easily follow its guidelines.

What Happens When You Enter the Food Danger Zone

You might think the whole food safety thing is a little overblown and paranoid. After all, what could happen to food if it’s left out at the wrong temperature or stored a little…unconventionally?

More than your customers or your bank account want to find out.

There are a few key names every restaurant owner is terrified of – E. coli and salmonella – but they aren’t the only food-borne pathogens you need to worry about. Parasites, bacteria, and viruses can cause serious complications, and in some cases, be fatal.

A salmonella outbreak in Australia this year led to a recall of Green Eggs brand eggs and the recommendation that any Green Eggs brand eggs be cooked until completely firm – that means no sunny side up, soft-poached, or Hollandaise on the menu for restaurants serving the company’s eggs.

In the UK, an Indian restaurant was closed for a deep clean after five people were diagnosed with E. coli infections and six suspected cases were reported. No restaurant owner can afford to unexpectedly close – it costs money. So does deep cleaning and scouring an entire restaurant to remove any potential contaminants…not to mention product loss, reputation impacts, and decreased staff morale.

You can’t do much to combat contamination that begins with the supplier, except following safe cooking practices. Inside your restaurant, teaching proper hygiene, storage, and preparation can help keep your diners safe.

Don’t End Up In The News

Today’s diners are concerned about food safety, a fact that is reflected in public policy, but not in many restaurant kitchens. The dangers of food-borne pathogens are real, and customers don’t shy away from blaming restaurants for illnesses. If you want to keep your clients coming back, pay attention to food safety guidelines.

Don’t be a statistic, follow FDA and state rules and guidelines, and pay attention to changes in regulations. Food safety is more than an administrative hassle – it’s a way to keep your diners and your bottom line protected.

You can do your part to keep your restaurant patrons safe, and let them know you care about following food storage and handling guidelines by sharing this post.


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