Food poisoning is a risk that worries many people when they eat away from home. While it is assumed that restaurants follow safe food practices, it’s not something that can be guaranteed. As it happens, it’s not only the food itself that can harbour harmful bacteria.
Here are ten common areas of potential contamination risk in restaurants, some food based, some not.
In the public areas of the restaurant:
- Smorgasbords – Food left out on a buffet isn’t always kept at consistently maintained temperatures. Commonly, food at the bottom of a dish can be much hotter than the food at the top. This can form an ideal environment for bacteria to multiply.
- Toilet facilities – These should be cleaned regularly. Even when they are, you are not safeguarded against other patrons who don’t wash their hands properly before touching door handles and taps.
- Table top items – The hard plastic surface of a laminated menu is an ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Paper menus, less so. Likewise, salt and pepper shakers and condiment bottles and containers can also harbour bacteria and should be cleaned regularly.
- Chairs – Surprisingly, restaurant chairs can be a prime spot for breeding bacteria. Restaurant cleaning services should wipe down hard surfaces on chairs and thoroughly vacuum upholstered seats on a regular basis.
In the kitchen:
- Refrigerator seals – The entire refrigerator should be emptied and cleaned regularly, with special attention paid to the seals, where there are more intricate crevices that are food and dirt traps. Bear in mind that the temperatures can vary in a refrigerator, being warmer towards the front of the fridge near the door, and colder at the back. The warmer temperature creates the risk of bacteria growth.
- Wooden utensils – Boards, spoons, chopsticks and other wooden tools should be washed well in hot soapy water regularly, and replaced frequently. Any with cracks that could provide an opportunity for bacteria growth should be disposed of.
- Plastic boards – These need to be scrubbed daily with disinfectant in addition to being washed regularly between uses. Separate boards for raw meat and fruit and vegetables will help to avoid cross-contamination. Any boards with deep cuts in the surface should be thrown away.
- Hand washing – The average person washes their hands for seven seconds. The time recommended to wash hands to ensure they are properly clean is twenty seconds. All staff, particularly kitchen staff, should be trained properly, and there should be a dedicated hand washing station in the kitchen.
- Lemon wedges – These are one of the most common food items to be a food poisoning risk. They are typically handled by hand, stored in open crates – sometimes on the floor, not washed properly, left in the open cut and uncut.
Common sense goes a long way towards avoiding unnecessary risk of contamination in kitchens and restaurants. Among other things, hiring specialist restaurant and commercial kitchen cleaners who understand the particular requirements of cleaning a food environment is extremely important. The cost involved will be, in the long term, much less than that incurred through a forced closure due to contamination.