The ever expanding food and beverage industry gets millions of customers daily. While innovation, taste, creativity and presentation form important growth milestones of this industry, what often gets ignored is sanitation and quality. From the biggest setups to food carts, in most cases, quality and sanitation get compromised somewhere.
Bacteria is extensively present in such an environment, and food-borne illnesses are rampant. In such a scenario, every conscientious, and socially responsible eating joint should be putting sanitation and consumer wellness before everything else.
Watch out for these signs in an eatery to know if proper hygiene is being maintained there or not. Feel free to ask questions to owners, waiters and employees, regarding sanitation practices and consider taking a walk through the kitchen yourself.
1. Observe the Basic Hygiene of the Food Handlers
Chefs, cooking staff, waiter, basically everyone handling food at a restaurant, hotel, supermarket or wagon must have high levels of personal and professional hygiene. It is important to give proper training to all those who will be handling the consumables at one step or another. This begins right from purchasing of fresh and good quality ingredients to cleaning, storing, preparing, and serving in the right and hygienic way.
When you see the staff washing hands frequently, consider it a good sign. Whether they are returning after using a washroom or just handled a raw fish, hands must be washed at every step. Hands and exposed areas of the arm should be washed frequently, when they are shifting from raw to cooked food or vice-a-versa. Similarly, covering and treating injuries is of utmost importance to prevent food items and equipment from getting infected.
Also, rubber and plastic gloves should be worn by injured workers always, to prevent contamination of food and equipment.
2. Check for Clean Contact Surfaces and Sterilized Equipment
Clean utensils and contact surfaces are a must. Even when we are cooking at home, there is a tendency for food to get trapped and caught between fork tines and counter cracks. This makes the contact surface unsanitary and a breeding ground for microbes.
To further know about the cleaning processes of the restaurant, inquire from staff if they carry out ATP testing. ATP testing is used for measuring the growing microorganisms in an area using adenosine triphosphate. ATP tests give a clear account of the biological concentration of microorganisms and helps in determining equipment and contact surface sanitation, as well as drinking water cleanliness. ATP testing helps to design prevention programs that can help in keeping the contact surfaces and equipment free of harmful micro-organisms.
When it comes to food equipment, slicers, fillers and the likes, they are especially difficult to clean. A piece of meat could get stuck somewhere and if it is not sterilized and cleaned thoroughly, it can become a hotbed for bacteria. Similarly, if you are cutting meat on a surface, you should not cut lettuce on the same surface without thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting it. These increase the risk of cross contamination.
3. Chemical Agents Must be Clearly Labeled and Used Appropriately
Whether fast food establishments, or five star properties, all food establishments use chemicals. While these could be plain preservatives, some of them are also of the harsher variety and are used for pest control. These need to be handled with extreme care, as they can contaminate the food, and cause various ailments.
In the kitchens of food establishments, you will find a lot of hazardous chemicals include sanitizers, pesticides, detergents, various polishes, cleanings and whitening agents.
Simultaneously, there will be containers of various spices, baking agents, etc. It is extremely important that all employees are taught how to use the plethora of chemicals present in the kitchen.
Non-edible chemicals should be kept far away from the cooking area and all food. All chemicals must be clearly labeled. Employees should also be educated and trained to read materials safety data sheets before they can begin using them so that they know the proper way to handle and store them correctly.
4. All Ingredients Must be Stored Safely
It’s not just the chemicals that require proper storage, but storage of all food and food related items is the key for good sanitation. To prevent bacteria and other microorganisms from growing, all foods should be stored at the proper temperature and for proper amount of time.
Research has indicated that microorganisms are most prone to grow when the internal food temperature is between 41 degrees Fahrenheit and 135 degrees Fahrenheit. This is especially relevant in the case of meat and poultry.
How many times have you returned what you ordered stating it’s gone sour or bad? Contamination after cooking is becoming more prevalent than ever. The kitchen is a perpetual hurried zone. As a result, chefs often set the meat out for too long, or cook it way too much in advance to prevent the last minute rush. Bacteria tends to form there. Microorganisms are maximum when cooked meat is left on a warming tray for hours. Frozen meat when set out for too long, and cooked at 160 degrees can also be filled with bacteria, if the internal temperature drops sufficiently.
Where you store the food also can lead to, or prevent, formation of bacteria. Randomly ask the chef of your favorite restaurant, where they store the meat in the refrigerator.
Most store it on the top shelf in the refrigerator, where it can drip onto foods below, thus cross contamination can take place. Similarly, it is important to not freeze food items in the same ice that will be used in various drinks.
So, we can safely say that storage at the right place, time and temperature is of paramount importance when it comes to keeping kitchens hygienic and sanitized.
You know your favorite dine-out venue is the right place to eat when they have good service and maintenance, you are free to enter their kitchen and check out their preparation processes, all utensils and contact surfaces are properly cleaned and sanitized, when you don’t see cockroaches or mice running around and there is absence of hair, dirt or any other unwanted physical matter in the kitchen or the food.
Next time you go to dine out at a fancy restaurant or a fast food joint check the above, to know what you are consuming is safe, healthy and bacteria free.