Be Food Safe! Restaurants Canada’s Top Food Safety Tips

Nobody likes coming to a kitchen and getting sick! 

It’s amazing that chefs have the ability to connect people through delicious food. Hours spent on an evening of food preparation and dinner service is always one of the most satisfying things about our industry. However, there is always the possibility that the experience for some of your diners can be flipped upside down by bacterial contamination of the food you’ve served. Putting out bad food is every chef’s worst nightmare — but thankfully, it’s one that can be avoided, provided you follow these simple instructions that come straight out of our very own Food Safety Code of Practice.

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Here’s the thing: bacteria are everywhere. Yours could be the cleanest kitchen in town, but chances are there are potentially sickness-inducing bacteria clinging to the metal surfaces in your workspace for much longer than you think. Start with the basics:

  • Frequently wash hands to keep them clean, especially
    • Before the start of your shift;
    • After using the restroom;
    • After handling raw meats of all kinds;
    • After sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose;
    • After the trash is taken out;
  • Wash for a minimum 20 seconds, or roughly how long it takes to sing Happy Birthday to yourself (sing out loud for best results).
  • All staff working in food preparation should always sport clean outer clothing when working in the kitchen. This includes
    • Changing aprons when moving from raw to ready-to-eat preparation;
    • Laundering your uniform regularly, avoiding wearing your uniform outside of the kitchen (particularly on your way to and from work if you use public transportation);
    • Taking care of your work shoes, and wear them only at work (shoes that have traveled far may increase the risk of cross-contamination).

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There are many types of food that require time and temperature control to be prepared correctly. You may hear these foods referred to as TCS, or temperature controlled for safety.

  • If you haven’t already got a reliable food thermometer, make sure to obtain one ASAP;
  • Thermometers can help you accurately gauge the temperature of food; for example, if food is cooling from 57 degrees celsius to 21 degrees, it must be done within two hours.
  • Cool to 5 degrees celsius within four hours and food should still be safe to eat.
  • Here’s a few handy chill out techniques:
    • Try using shallow pans (4” thick or less); deep dishes or bowls take much longer to cool, stretching the time your food has to sit in the temperature ‘danger zone’ (anywhere between 4 and 63 degrees celsius, where bacterial growth can occur);
    • Avoid covering or venting during the cooling process;
    • Store in the coldest section of your fridge;
    • Use a blast chiller, if available.
  • Not sure how to calibrate your brand new thermometer? Use one of these new methods:
    • The ice-point method requires a large glass filled with crushed ice and clean water. Submerge the thermometer’s sensor completely for 30 seconds without touching the bottom or sides of the glass, until it reads 0 degrees celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit);
    • Bring a pot of clean water to boil using the boiling-point method. Submerge the sensor for at least 30 seconds, without touching the bottom or sides, until your thermometer reads 100 degrees celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit).

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On the flip side, especially if you’re preparing from chilled or frozen, your food must always be kept a safe temperature from thaw to table.

  • Never defrost at room temperature! There are just three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave;
  • Calibrate your thermometers to make sure dishes are cooked or reheated to the correct temperature;
  • Always marinate in the refrigerator!
  • Use a steamer or oven to bring food to the correct temperature quickly;
  • Always cook to the proper temperature! Consider using digital tools to be sure;
  • You can insulate hot dishes to lessen the amount of time hot food can spend at riskier temperatures — just make sure it’s eaten shortly after serving!

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Keeping your food safe from the hazards of cross-contamination starts at the market and is most important in the kitchen. Once everything is organized you can store it safely and properly. Begin by:

  • Separating raw protein, seafood and eggs from the other foods in your basket to avoid cross-contamination from packaging material or raw juices.
      When thawing, store raw meat, poultry and fish in the following top-to-bottom order: fish, whole cuts of beef, pork products (such as ham, bacon or sausage), ground beef or pork, and poultry at the bottom.
  • Cutting produce separately from raw meat, poultry and seafood on different boards or surfaces;
  • Make sure to store your raw foods separately from cooked food, and rotate your stored items so that it can follow the a ‘first in, first out’ order;
  • Label all your items with an expiration or ‘use by’ date;
  • Use open shelving that will maximize airflow but be careful not to overstock your freezer or fridge.

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Like the restaurant and culinary industries, food safety is always undergoing significant changes over the years. It’s up to operators to stay on top of managing food safety at their establishments. Implementing just a few of these tips can create the safest possible environment for your guests and staff. Here’s a few last tips you can use to stay safe:

  • Monitor the personal hygiene of your staff members: always work with clean hair, fingernails and appropriate protective gear.
    • Never dry your hands on an apron or dishtowel, as you may run the risk of re-contamination.
  • Always assure the food is handled correctly from prep station to table;
  • Initiate temperature recording practices, using a standardized table or chart, and make sure all staff are trained to do the same;
  • Always prep, cook, serve and store food according to the established temperature guidelines in your local area.
  • Ensure that food safety is the top priority on everyone’s list in your kitchen.

These tips may all sound like common sense, no-brainer best practices when working in the food industry. But for the sake of your staff and your client’s safety, it never hurts to provide a refresher on these and other tips — your diners will thank you for it by coming back, again and again. 

Need more tips on food handling and safety? Pick up our Food Safety Code of Practice – available for $14.95 on our Restaurants Canada bookstore.

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“Restaurants Canada’s new Code of Practice provides the what’s, why’s, and how’s of food safety for foodservice operators. Designed as an interpretive guide to the model Food Retail and Food Service Regulation and Code and provincial regulations across Canada, its use of colour, graphics and pictures as well as its easy-to-understand language, makes it an invaluable, user-friendly guide.”