Food is the most important aspect for the sustainability of any living being. Hence, it is crucial to ensure that right from the procurement of ingredients to finally serving the food, the food shouldn’t become the trojan horse for the pathogens to enter our body. Any pathogen contamination in the food you eat can cause severe health issues, and hence, there are multiple standards and protocols in place when working in the restaurant business.
One common misconception is that once you have the food prepared with an internal temperature of 165oF, pathogens can no longer contaminate the food. Contrarily, when the food (raw or unprepared) is not stored correctly, the pathogens can multiply quickly and reach a dangerous level. This can quickly turn a crowd-pulling dish into a wave of food poisoning, and this is just one way for food spoilage. So when it comes to food storage, it is essential to follow certain best practices to ensure maximum safety.
Importance of proper Food Storage Practices
Food chemistry is an essential aspect to keep in mind when it comes to storing food. The shelf life of a food item depends on multiple factors such as:
- How long was the food prepared?
- The temperature of the food while storing
- Exposure to direct sunlight
- Air quality
- Moisture within the storage container
- Enzymes and Microorganisms within the food
Improper food storage can significantly reduce the shelf life of the food. This can lead to an increase in food wastage and starts burning a hole in the restaurant owners’ pockets. Some of you may think that freezing every food item when not in use is the best way to tackle food storage, but it can make things worse as the risk of cross-contamination greatly increases in such conditions.
Food Storage Best Practices
#1 Storing Food at the right temperature
Every food item is different from others and so needs to be stored differently. Flour, pulses, canned foods, and many others can last much longer and hence, can be stored at room temperature. Poultry, meat, dairy products, ripe fruits & vegetables, bakery products run the risk of spoiling unless kept in freezing temperatures. The key is understanding which food item needs to be stored at which temperature. One golden rule to follow is storing based on the cooking temperatures.
- Topmost shelf of a refrigerator – Ready to eat and cooked food
- Second shelf – Cheeses and canned food
- Third shelf – Raw fish, shellfish, and any food cooked at 145oF
- Fourth shelf – raw pork, beef, veal, or any food cooked at 155oF
- Bottom most shelf – Ground meat and whole eggs
If you have multiple refrigerators for different food items, the temperatures can be managed individually for every food type.
- Dry Storage Temperatures should be between 50o and 70oF.
- Chillers should be 32-35oF consistently.
- Freezers should be kept at 0o – 20oF range.
#2 Label ‘received’ and ‘use-by’ on all food items
For a restaurant, deliveries might be happening multiple times a day. In such situations, it is easy to lose track of the date of receipt. By clearing labeling the date of receipt and use-by date, you ensure using only fresh ingredients and avoid food wastage by ordering the next lot when the current stock is depleted. Set up a delivery window during the kitchen downtime and allot two people to inspect all the food, measure temperatures, and immediately store them after labeling. Additionally, have a ‘to-use’ sheet that instructs the crew about which product to use before it reaches its expiry.
#3 Clear Bins are your friend.
Clear bins help you to check the state of the food within without having to inspect inside physically. This allows you to identify any spoilage as well as keep track of the inventory for re-ordering. Additionally, vacuum seal fresh products that can get spoiled when exposed to open air.
#4 Let your food items ‘breathe’
Cooked food needs to be placed in airtight containers, but storing containers is important to ensure that air circulation is not cut off. This way, the overall temperature inside remains consistently cool. For fruits such as apples, bananas that release ethylene, keep them away from other fruits as ethylene can quicken the ripening process. Similarly, ‘fragrant’ cheeses such as Camembert, Munster can pass on the stench to the adjoining food items and change their taste & smell.
#5 Avoid refreezing a thawed out food
Microorganisms slip into cryostasis, i.e., become dormant when kept at near-freezing temperature. When you thaw out food, the microbes inside come out of cryostasis and begin multiplying unless cooked immediately. When you refreeze a thawed out food, you tend to introduce a food when more than double microbe presence that can contaminate other food items or double multiplication when again thawed out.
While running a food business, whether a food truck at a busy intersection or a high end dining place that offers multi-course meals, food safety is critical. To ensure a smooth operation, it is important to consider food safety as a critical element and take every possible step to ensure the food is never contaminated at any stage. The tips covered in the article above are only the tip of the iceberg for food storage. Attending a food handlers classes can help you understand food storage in detail along with other aspects of handling food professionally.