Restaurant Food Safety: You Are What You Serve

PointOfSale chef washing hands Restaurant food safety -01


The Center for Disease and Control Prevention estimates 48 million people in the United States get sick every year due to foodborne illnesses. Foodborne illnesses are preventable, and minimizing their occurrence is one of the most important aspects of running a restaurant.

Although you can’t be perfect, ensuring your restaurant food meets health department standards is essential to avoid lawsuits and fines. In addition to accessing state-specific health codes, there are food safety tips you can follow to ensure you serve everything in amazing condition for your customers. You can remember these tips by following the 4 C’s, which are cleaning, cooking, chilling, and cross-contamination.

Making Restaurant Food Safety a Breeze: The 4 C’s

The first C is cleaning, which is important when you’re prioritizing restaurant food safety.
There are a ton of federal regulations mandated by the Food and Drug Administration related to the cleanliness of the employees and the facilities to prevent foodborne illnesses.

To ensure the facilities are clean, there are a few things you want to make sure staff members know.
Clean all equipment thoroughly between each use. For example, clean counters and grills between uses, and then clean ovens and fryers nightly during closing tasks.

Wash the dishes often and make sure they’re washed well. Your kitchen staff should clear the prep space as often as they can. Ensure your staff use hairnets to keep their hair back, and wash their hands after using the restroom and handling food, like raw meat. In case they need a reminder, you might want to add handwashing signs in the bathrooms as well as the kitchen.

Rules, Rules, Rules: Cooking, Storage, and Refrigeration Guidelines

The next two C’s, cooking and chilling, are essential to avoid spreading foodborne illnesses. You must follow the cooking, storage, and refrigeration guidelines to serve safe food items.

Make sure the food you store has proper labels that are easy to read. Labeling meat or leftovers wrong could result in allergic reactions or foodborne illnesses.

Use a thermometer to ensure the meat you cook is at the proper temperature.

  • Fresh beef, pork, and elk should have a minimum temperature of 145° F.
  • Poultry and game birds should be at 165° F.
  • Ground meats should be 160° F.
  • Fish and shellfish of any type should be at 145° F.

Fully cooked poultry, leftover, and cooked meats can be eaten cold. Reheat other items back to their original temperature to ensure freshness and healthy meat. If any food is going to be sitting out, then temperature logs should be kept, ensuring the temperature is as high as it needs to be.

Although the kitchen staff will check the temperature after cooking the food item, staff members should inspect it again before it goes out to guests for safety reasons.

PointOfSale checking meat temperature restaurant food safety

The USDA Says, “Be Smart, Keep Foods Apart”

Cross-contamination is the last C, and it’s very dangerous. When harmful bacteria transfer between different foods, utensils, or kitchenware, cross-contamination occurs.

However, more than just bacteria can contaminate the food. Viruses and toxins move from one food to another easily. If you clean the areas where you prepare food, the toxins from the cleaner can contaminate the food. If a foreign substance comes into contact with food, then it’s considered cross-contamination.

The main concern with restaurant food is raw meat, poultry, and seafood. These raw foods and their juices must be away from cooked food and fresh produce. Therefore, you should have different storage areas for different types of food.

To avoid cross-contamination, keep cooked food away from the prep area. When you’re done using raw meat, make sure it’s sealed properly and not leaking so it can’t come into contact with other food.

Lastly, the kitchen staff should change their gloves when they go from prepping raw meat to other foods. Taking these precautions will ensure your restaurant food isn’t cross-contaminated and your customers stay healthy.

See Also: A Complete Guide to Food Service Licenses You Need to Know Before Launching Your Restaurant

Other Restaurant Food Safety Tips to Live By

While the 4 C’s are significant, there are other tips that you can use to have a healthy restaurant environment.

Remember Food Allergies Exist

Food allergies are very common, and you need to be aware of them so you don’t have an allergy-related emergency on your hands. Researchers at Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) estimated 32 million Americans have a food allergy, so you’re likely going to deal with them on a regular basis.

According to FARE, eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, and shellfish are responsible for 90 percent of food allergy reactions. Since you can’t get rid of a food allergy, your customers will try to avoid the food so they don’t experience an allergic reaction.

Allergic reactions can range from hives, rashes, and dizziness to anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening reaction.

Servers and front-of-house staff should have knowledge about which food allergies are common and be able to provide customers with an idea of what ingredients are in the dishes on the menu. For the back-of-house kitchen staff, ensure they wash supplies properly after use or have designated utensils and equipment for handling requests from customers with allergies.

Lastly, it’s always a smart idea to have an allergy emergency protocol in place in case a customer needs help.

Have the Right Tools for the Job

Even if you have the best staff, it takes the proper tools to maintain restaurant food safety.

Ensure you have all the tools you need. For example, you should have proper storage and shelves to hold ingredients and keep the kitchen neat. The dishwasher must be able to clean and sanitize dishes and glassware, and you need to have thermometers to check the internal temperature of food items before you deliver them to customers.

While you might have all these things checked off now, later they might deteriorate. Constantly checking your equipment and doing maintenance is essential so you have the best tools and technology to provide the best food.

The Secret to Restaurant Food Safety Isn’t Actually a Secret

Train employees on the guidelines of restaurant food safety. While this might seem like a daunting task, the health of your customers is worth going the extra mile.

Actively work to provide the best food safety that you can for your customers and for your restaurant, since lawsuits and low inspection scores aren’t fun for anyone. At the end of the day, you want to build a restaurant and reputation that will make you proud. Restaurant food safety is one of the most essential ways to ensure that your restaurant will be successful, so why not do everything you can to prioritize food safety?

About the Author

Morgan Davis

As a marketing assistant for Shift4 Payments, Morgan creates relevant and engaging content for She leverages her hospitality experience and public relations knowledge to engage small business owners on an informational platform. Morgan graduated from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania in 2019 with a B.S. in Communication/Journalism and a concentration in public relations.