4 Major Food Safety Hazards Restaurant Owners Need to Avoid
By building a strong food safety culture and implementing the right control measures, you can ensure that the food you serve to your customers is completely safe to eat.
Running a restaurant is no easy task. In addition to ensuring that the food tastes great and looks appetizing, you also have to manage food safety hazards - and one mistake could cost you your business.
Since restaurants serve food to the public, a food safety issue can quickly become a public health issue. It is also difficult to avoid - data from the World Health Organization suggests that 600 million people are affected by a foodborne illness every year. Worse, 420,000 of these cases prove fatal.
In addition to endangering the health of customers, food safety issues can also damage your restaurant's reputation and lead to a significant loss of business.
As a restaurant owner, you can avoid this by knowing about the four types of food safety hazards, implementing a food safety plan to protect the integrity of the food you serve, and developing an overall culture of food safety in your establishment.
The 4 Types of Food Safety Hazards You Need to Avoid
Biological hazards include bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can contaminate food and lead to foodborne illnesses. There are many sources that can introduce these hazards to your restaurant, including contaminated water, food that hasn't been properly cooked, or food handled by someone who is sick.
Although they usually result only mild to moderate illness, some bacteria and viruses can cause serious and potential fatal sickness.
Salmonella, for instance, can cause long-term complications for those who suffer from it, such as permanent damage to the gallbladder. Likewise, consuming food contaminated E. coli and shigella can cause not only severe diarrhea but also hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which destroys red blood cells and can cause kidney failure.
How to prevent biological hazards
The best way to prevent biological hazards is to follow good food safety and hygiene practices. This means training staff to ensure that they cook the food properly, use clean utensils and surfaces, and wash their hands often.
You must also make sure that all the water used for cooking processes (including heating, cooling, and steaming food) is clean drinking water. Any water used for other purposes should be kept separate from the main water supply to avoid contamination.
More tips for managing biological food safety hazards:
- Handle raw meat separately from other food items
- Food handlers with open wounds on their hands should not come in contact with food items or utensils
- Wash raw produce thoroughly before preparing or serving it
- Conduct regular (at least monthly) microbiological analysis of the water used for washing and cooking
- Disinfect and clean all equipment, tools, and surfaces used in food production
- Source all ingredients from trusted sources and production facilities
When talking about food safety, physical hazards refer to any foreign objects that might find their way into the food, like shards of ceramic from a cracked plate or metal fragments from a damaged knife. These foreign objects can be introduced at any stage of the food preparation process, from handling ingredients to serving the food to customers.
How to prevent physical hazards
The first step to managing physical food safety hazards is to train your staff to regularly inspect food for foreign objects.
You should also make sure that all utensils and cookware are in good condition and made of materials that are unlikely to break or shatter. You can opt for aluminum or steel storage containers, for instance. Sturdy materials like melamine make a good choice for dinnerware.
Other tips for managing physical food safety hazards:
- Inspect raw materials and food ingredients for contaminants, such as small stones in cereals
- Provide gloves for food handlers to avoid the risk of chipped fingernails making their way into the food
- Eliminate possible sources of physical hazards, such as using protective acrylic bulbs or lamp covers to prevent contamination from light bulb breaking
- Install a detection system, such as metal detectors or magnets to identify metal fragments in the food or filters and screens to keep foreign objects from reaching the food
- Implement a maintenance program for all equipment to identify and prevent worn parts (such as rusting bolts, chipping paint, or metal components scraping), leaks, and other issues that could affect the integrity of the food
Chemicals are an inevitable part of running a restaurant. Since the premises must meet a high standard for cleanliness, there will be cleaning products and pesticides on hand. Depending on what type of food you prepare, you may also need to use chemical food additives or keep fuel for the kitchen blowtorch.
No matter what their purpose, all of these chemicals have the potential to contaminate the food and put your customers at risk.
How to prevent chemical hazards
Make sure that all cleaning products and pesticides are being used properly. Some cleaning products must be diluted before being used on cooking surfaces, for instance. And pesticides should only be applies away from food preparation areas.
It's also important that your kitchen's walls are made of non-toxic and impervious material. You can use stainless steel or plastic sheeting to cover the walls, use washable paint, or install ceramic tiles with an epoxy-based grouting or an epoxy resin coating.
Other tips for managing chemical food safety hazards:
- Invest in non-toxic cleaners and avoid harsh cleaners wherever possible
- Properly label cleaning supplies, including instructions on how to handle the product safely
- Use automatic dispensers to limit employee exposure to chemical cleaners and ensure that the proper amount or concentration is used
(Learn more about 6 Common Workplace Chemicals - And How to Handle Them Safely)
Allergens can be one of the most harmful food safety hazard and one of the most challenging to mitigate. Peanuts, shellfish, and eggs are common allergens, but any ingredient has the potential to cause an allergic reaction in one of your customers.
Allergic reactions can range from mild to life-threatening. Depending on the individual, these reactions might only result from a large concentration of the allergenic ingredient or it might be triggered by a trace amount.
How to prevent allergenic hazards
Of course, it's impossible to avoid using allergenic ingredients altogether. That's why the best way to prevent these hazards is to be very transparent about which ingredients are in each dish. Clearly labeling common allergenic ingredients on the menu can be helpful. Both serving and kitchen staff should be trained on how to handle special requests from customers with allergies.
When serving a customer with allergies, dedicate a separate preparation area for their meal. Alternatively, you can have a designated staff member who is responsible for preparing allergen-free meals.
Other tips for managing allergenic food safety hazards:
- Store and seal ingredients properly to avoid cross-contamination
- Make sure to correctly label all foods containing allergens - if you're unsure about particular ingredients, contact the supplier
- Clean or sterilize utensils and equipment before using them to prepare allergen-free foods
- Conduct regular allergen tests and maintain a record of the results to ensure that you are adequately controlling for cross-contamination
How to Develop a Food Safety Culture at Your Restaurant
While there are specific measures you can take to reduce food safety risks, developing an overall food safety culture at your restaurant can help you tackle all of them more effectively.
Here are a few things you can do to build or improve your food safety culture:
- Develop an HACCP plan. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is a food safety system that helps identify potential hazards in the production process and puts controls in place to mitigate those hazards.
- Provide food safety training for your employees to ensure that everyone who works for you is aware of food safety procedures. It’s also a legal requirement in states that require food handlers to carry a food handlers card.
- Conduct food safety audits. Accountability is an important aspect of a food safety culture. Regularly auditing your restaurant's food safety practices can help you identify any areas that need improvement.
Serving food that has been compromised can be harmful to your customers and devastating to your business. Because of this, it's imperative that you become familiar with all major food safety hazards and take appropriate steps to control them.
With a strong food safety culture and the right plan in place, you'll be able to ensure the continued success of your restaurant.