The kitchen is the heart and soul of a restaurant establishment, where meals are crafted by talented chefs. Each element of a kitchen should ideally be designed to optimize workflow, ensuring every meal that is served is delicious and has been safely prepared. Comprehensive food-safety training with frequent coaching and refresher sessions should be developed, implemented and reinforced for employees to ensure a consistent food-safety culture across the entire restaurant. The FDA’s Model Food Code sets the standard for hygienic design, materials and performance requirements of food equipment to help prevent food-safety risks associated with inadequate equipment design.
Food service safety zones
The equipment requirements set forth in these standards exist not as a blueprint for how equipment should be built, but rather as guidelines on how to incorporate hygienic design elements into the final product. It outlines food service equipment as having specific zones, each with their own set of requirements: “food zones” for direct food contact (cutting boards, the inside of pots and pans), “splash zones” for areas likely to be soiled with food (soda fountain drains, handles of utensils) and “non-food zones” for other areas (table legs, casters). As expected, food zone requirements are more stringent than splash or non-food zone requirements, but all zones have to be cleanable.
Consider a food refrigerator. The inside has to meet food zone requirements because it’s intended to hold open, unpackaged foods. But the bottom is subject to non-food zone requirements, meaning the feet must be elevated enough to clean underneath. Clearly design and function are critical in choosing the right piece of equipment for the cleanest, safest-possible kitchen environment.
Mitigating contamination risks
The FDA categorizes foodborne-illness risk factors into four problematic areas: poor personal hygiene, contaminated equipment, improper holding temperature and inadequate cooking. Three of these have links to equipment. Not surprisingly, food contact surfaces that are not properly cleaned and sanitized can create a risk. Before equipment even reaches the kitchen, these surfaces should be designed to be free of pits, pinholes, cracks and crevices that are difficult to clean. Foods not kept at proper temperatures can also be a hazard. Thermometers should be used every step of the way (preparation, storage and reheating) to check temperatures, and refrigerators and freezers should be capable of holding food at safe temperatures.
An optimized kitchen plan requires a holistic approach to food sanitation and safety, including equipment design. Certification for hygiene standards means the equipment is designed to be easily cleanable. Simply stated, design matters.