In the foodservice industry, there are many stages through which a food item travels until it’s on the fork or spoon of a customer. In order to maintain the quality, taste, and (most importantly) safety of the final product, it’s imperative that restaurants preserve the food during every step of the way. Last week, we discussed a few guidelines to remember when receiving food in your kitchen. Once the food is in your kitchen, it could sit there for hours, days, or weeks depending on the demand for the ingredient and frequency of use. Storing food properly maximizes its shelf life and protects it from contamination until it is ready to be prepared. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when storing food in your commercial kitchen.
Enforce the “First In, First Out” Rule
Commonly referred to as FIFO, this rule helps ensure both the safety and quality of every ingredient. Although this may seem like common sense, with new foods constantly entering and leaving a commercial kitchen, it’s easy to lose track. It’s helpful to have an organized system in place to make sure that older foods are used up before newer ones.
Whenever you receive a new shipment of food, arrange the newer foods behind the older food so that all of the older food is used first. Labeling is your best friend here. As we mentioned in last week’s post about safely receiving foods, make a habit out of labeling every item that comes into your kitchen with the delivery date. Without a proper FIFO system in place, older foods that aren’t easily accessible could go bad by the time you find them – which puts the food surrounding it at risk for spoiling.
Meat Belongs in the Bottom of Your Freezer or Refrigerator
You may think that storing your meat in a sealed container is enough to keep it from contaminating your other cold storage items. However, it is always best to store any meat as low as possible just in case of a leak. Dripping meat juices are the last thing you want lingering in your refrigerator or freezer.
Use Clear, Air-Tight Containers
Exposure to air will usually expedite the process of spoiling food. Keep all of your foods in air-tight containers that will seal freshness in and keep air out. While you could use food pans and lids for this purpose, clear food storage boxes are recommended as they allow you to see exactly what food is inside. If you do use a container that is not clear, be sure to label it to maintain both food safety and efficiency in your kitchen.
Store Food Off the Floor
According to the 2009 FDA Food Code, all foods in a commercial kitchen must be stored at least six inches above the floor. Some cities enforce the rule even further in their health codes, requiring a minimum height of 12 inches. By keeping food off the floor, you eliminate the risk of water or dust polluting the food. Dunnage racks and keg racks are both great for storing food above floor level.
Keep Your Kitchen Clean and Organized
As we mentioned previously, using racks and shelving units help keep your food off of the floor and away from contaminants. However, similar to refrigerators, overcrowding them or leaving them unorganized is counterproductive. Maintain a certain order on all of your commercial shelving units.
Also, be sure that your kitchen is spotless at all times. Floors, refrigerator shelves, and shelving units all need to be cleaned frequently in order to keep away dust, bacteria, and dirt.
Check Your Refrigerator Thermometer Frequently
While the main function of a refrigerator is to keep foods fresh and safe for consumption, this only works if it is producing the right temperature. Get your staff into the habit of checking the refrigerator thermometers at least once a day to make sure that they are working properly. Just a few degrees above the normal temperature could spoil the food in a refrigerator.
Don’t Stuff Refrigeration Units
One way to make sure that your freezers and refrigerators maintain a safe temperature is to avoid overloading them with too many foods. With too many items stacked on the shelves, your refrigerator will need to work extra hard to keep the temperature low. This can increase the temperature in certain areas that are not receiving enough cool air, and could even cause your refrigerator to completely stop working – both of which create unsafe cool storage conditions for your food.
In Doubt? Throw It Out.
At any stage of food handling – whether it’s receiving, storage, or preparation – if you ever feel unsure about the safety of a food item, get it out of your kitchen as soon as possible. If the food is indeed spoiled, keeping it could lead to the contamination of surrounding items and puts your patrons at risk for food poisoning. If you’re ever in doubt, simply throw it out.