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4 Food Storage & Safety Procedures Every Food Handler Should Know

According to the latest research about food waste, over 40% of the U.S food supply is never consumed.

The most common reasons for this food waste is that restaurants are not sure how to store food, what food can be refrigerated, and the best use of their food.

Proper food storage involves having procedures to ensure that all of the food gets used up before it expires as well as storing it at the right temperature and location. Knowledge of proper food storage is not only important for restaurants to ensure the health of diners, but it’s also critical for food handler certification and employment.

Below are a few tips for every food handler or restaurant manager should know when it comes to food storage and safety.

1. Follow Stock Rotation Rules

Let’s talk about stock rotation. Stock rotation is the practice of moving products with earlier expiration dates forward to prevent food spoilage. Following stock rotation rules ensures that food doesn’t have to be thrown out because it wasn’t used before it expired. When following stock rotation rules, remember the acronym FIFO—first-in, first-out!

Use the shortest shelf life items first.

When using food that you have in stock for cooking or meal preparation, it’s important to use those items with the shortest shelf life first. That way, older ingredients won’t expire and go to waste.

Place items with the shortest shelf lives up front

When storing or displaying food, always put the stock with the shortest shelf life at the front. You will be able to see it more easily, and it will be cooked with first.

2. Use Recommended Refrigeration Temperatures

Keeping your refrigerator at the recommended temperature is crucial in preserving food and preventing pathogenic bacteria from multiplying. Here are some helpful safety tips to keep in mind when refrigerating food.

Take special care of high-risk foods

High risk time and temperature control (TCS) foods, such as milk, eggs, shellfish, fish and meats, must be refrigerated – they are the main priority.

It’s important to understand that keeping raw and TCS foods at 41°F or below will prevent or slow down pathogenic bacterial multiplication. Remember, the trick is to ensure that you keep food out of the Temperature Danger Zone. Anything over 41°F bacteria to multiply at a rapid speed.

Aside from high risk TCS foods, here is a list of perishable items that should be refrigerated at 41°F:

  • Cooked meats, such as salami or ham
  • Pies and pates
  • Coleslaw, cottage cheese, and sandwich fillings
  • Vacuum packed raw meat, poultry, and fish
  • Anything labeled for refrigeration, such as bottled sauces without preservatives
  • Prepared salads

Make sure that these foods are not left out for more than 2 hours. Bacteria could multiply to dangerous levels and cause foodborne illnesses.

Transfer and cover the contents of open cans

The contents of opened cans should be refrigerated once they have been transferred to suitable storage containers. Never put an opened metal tin of food in the cooler. The metal will rust quickly and cause chemical contamination.

Refrigerate vegetables and fruits

Some vegetables and fruits can be refrigerated if desired, but make sure that they are separated from other foods. Mixing produce with other food stock can result in … (contamination?)

3. Store Food in Coolers Correctly

Understanding how to stack food in a cooler correctly can reduce risks of cross contamination, keep food fresher for longer, and ultimately save you time and money as you will be able to get longer use out of your food inventory.

Below are a few best practices for safe food storage in coolers.

Store raw meat and poultry separately

Always store raw meat and poultry on shelves below other food so that blood or juices cannot drip onto other foods and cross-contaminate them.

Allow space for air circulation

Don’t overcrowd your cooler (the same goes for your refrigerator). Allow enough room around the food for air to circulate. This way, the cooler will be able to operate efficiently and maintain its target temperature.

Keep the cooler door shut

Do not leave cooler doors open any longer than necessary. Otherwise, the temperature inside the cooler will rise, putting food at risk for rapid bacteria growth.

Do not put hot food in the cooler

Unless you have a separate cooler, do not put hot food in a cooler as this will raise the temperature inside and may cause condensation, which can cause cross-contamination by dripping moisture onto other food.

4. Label Food Accurately and In Detail

Labelling food items before storing them lets a food handler know when the food needs to be used by. Below is a breakdown of how you should label different types of food:

  • Highly perishable packaged food, such as cooked meat, fish and dairy products, should be marked with a Use By date.
  • All ready-to-eat food that is prepared in-house must have a label that includes the name of the food and a Use By or expiration date.
  • Less perishable items, such as dried fruit, flour, chips, cereals and canned food, should have a Best Before date.

Tips on When to Throw Out Food

Following these food safety procedures will ensure that less food gets thrown out, but some food will inevitably go bad and need to be thrown out. Here are some

  • The FDA says that prepared food and leftovers must be thrown out after 7 days maximum.
  • If a TCS food is left out of the refrigerator for over 2 hours, you must throw it out.
  • If the food is past the use by date, it is time to discard.

To learn more about proper food storage techniques, as well as other food safety tips, enroll in our food handler course.

You can also watch this quick video more more details.

Barbecue Food Safety

With summer just around the corner, people will be pulling out their grills. Cooked well, BBQ is tasty and perfect for any outdoor gathering, but there are still food safety risks that come with it—namely in regards to temperature abuse.

Bacteria grows most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, also known as the temperature danger zone, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.

When pathogens grow at these temperatures, they are harmful and can make you very ill.

While this may sound scary, it is easily preventable. Follow these tips for a safe summer BBQ.

Store Food Until Ready to Cook

Store cold food at 41°F or lower and prepare the food ideally within 30 minutes. If not, put it back in the cooler.

Cook Food Thoroughly

Cook food to its recommended minimum internal cooking temperature. Below are the recommended temperatures some common grilling items:

Chicken

165°F

Hamburgers

155°F

Steak

145°F

Hot Dogs

160°F

Pork Chops

145°F

More questions about minimum internal cooking temperatures? This PDF lays out all recommended internal cooking temperatures.

Don’t Leave Food Out

Don’t just leave your food just sitting out. Serve the food within 20 minutes, or hold it hot at above 135°F. If not eating, transfer it back to a cooler as soon as possible.

Learn more about keeping food out of the temperature danger zone and much more by taking our Food Handlers certification course.

Seafood Safety in 4 Easy Steps

Seafood is becoming ever more popular among restaurant goers. However, from a food safety viewpoint, it is one type of food that can put customers at risk, without proper food hygiene training.

Over the past few weeks, there have been public health officials warning of increasing dangers from foodborne bacteria in raw and undercooked shellfish as summer approaches.

With seafood being a high-risk food, there are several things you can do to greatly reduce the chance of foodborne illness. Here are 4 easy steps you can take to reduce the risk of spreading a foodborne illness to your customers when serving seafood.

Wash Your Hands Properly

Wash your hands, properly! This may sound obvious, but you’ll be surprised at the amount of people who don’t know how to wash their hands properly. Below is the simple 6 step guide.

  1. Wet your hands with warm running water and apply soap
  2. Rub your hands together palm to palm to make a lather
  3. Rub the palm of one hand along the back of the other and along the fingers. Repeat with the other hand
  4. Put your palms together with fingers interlocked and rub in between each of the fingers thoroughly.
  5. Rub around your thumbs on each hand and then rub the fingertips of each hand against your palms.
  6. Rinse off the soap with clean water and dry your hands thoroughly on a disposable towel. Turn off the tap with the towel and then throw the towel away.

Prevent Cross-Contamination

Food prep, things to remember - With food preparation, there are a few simple steps to minimize cross-contamination, which is a huge reason for many cases of foodborne illnesses. Below are just a few things to remember:

Sanitize your chopping boards after every use

Warm water and soap will not kill all bacteria on your chopping board after handling raw meat or seafood, so it’s important you clean all areas including chopping boards, work surface, knifes, etc. properly with hot water and sanitizer.

Use different chopping boards for different food groups

To stop cross-contamination, we recommend using different chopping boards for different food types. Below is an example of how you could use different colors to represent different food groups.

  • White - bakery and dairy products
  • Yellow - cooked meat
  • Brown - root vegetables
  • Red - raw meat
  • Blue - raw fish
  • Green - salad, fruit, and fresh vegetables

Avoid The Temperature Danger Zone

It’s important as someone who works in the food industry to understand how to heat and refrigerate food correctly so that food does not remain in the temperature danger zone (40°F - 140°F), and pathogenic bacteria do not have the chance to multiply.

Eat shellfish promptly after cooking

Don’t allow shellfish the chance to enter the temperature danger zone before consumption. Take it out to diners quickly after it is done cooking.

Refrigerate leftovers

Recommend that diners get their leftovers into their refrigerator as soon as they get home to keep food from being in the temperature danger zone for too long.

Be Aware of Fish and Shellfish Allergies

Both fish and shellfish are both considered one of the 8 main allergens, which are 8 food groups that are responsible for 90% of allergenic reactions.

It’s important to prevent cross-contact by storing allergens separately from one another, cleaning and sanitizing your equipment, and properly labelling any hidden allergens on your menu.

Need help with your restaurant's food safety? Take a look at our Food Handler, Allergen Awareness, and Food Protection Manager certifications.