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Accidents can happen whether you’re a veteran chef or just starting in the restaurant industry. That being said, the kitchen does not have to be looked at as a problem waiting to happen. By implementing safety tips and best practices for your kitchen staff, you’ll not only be keeping them safe, but you’ll most likely have better employee retention and better service overall. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, there is evidence that restaurant industry employees have high levels of work-related stress and injuries caused by a plethora of various factors. 

Keep reading to learn more about how to avoid injury as well as implement good safety procedures.

The importance of kitchen safety

Restaurant employees are constantly surrounded by sharp objects, fire, hot liquids and bacteria — that means kitchen safety is super important. But, what exactly are the most common issues that cause chefs harm? 

Cuts, lacerations and punctures

It goes without saying, but knives can cause serious damage. If you are frequently cutting, chopping and dicing food, then using proper knife handling practices will ensure your hand or other body parts remain uninjured. Cooks also deal with glass dishware and other breakable crockery that can crack or shatter. 

Slips, trips and falls

With oils, creams and liquids of all kinds being used, the likelihood of a spill is high. If spilled liquid isn’t cleaned up, then chefs face slipping or falling. Further injury can occur if you are holding an item or run into an object that might fall or spill on you. 

Sprains, strains and soft-tissue injuries

Sprains, strains and soft-tissue injuries are often caused by sudden, odd movement or overuse of a muscle, tendon and ligament over time, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Restaurant staff members often stand for long periods of time and repeat the same motions over and over again, which could result in injury. 

Burns and scalds

While the oven and stove top burners are wonderful for cooking foods of all styles, open flames and hot temperatures can cause serious burns and scalds. 

Kitchen safety rules also include food hygiene and food safety — important practices that help you follow the law and run a thriving commercial kitchen.

The difference between food hygiene and food safety 

Food hygiene and food safety overlap, but are not directly interchangeable. Food safety encompasses all of the important practices that restaurants must follow to ensure that food is fit for guests to eat. There are various pieces of legislation in place to back up food safety practices, but the Food Safety Act of 1990 is the main framework for all laws. 

The three key elements of food safety are:

1. Ensuring everyone follows good food hygiene practices

This includes how food is handled, preventing cross-contamination, cleaning procedures, personal hygiene, allergen control, safe storage and using correct cooking temperatures.

2. Maintaining a clean kitchen

Another key aspect of risk prevention is the maintenance of the restaurant. This includes general cleaning and upkeep of the building, having a kitchen layout that makes sense, suitable lighting, ventilation, pest control and waste management. 

3. Implementing appropriate food management systems

This last item refers to the overarching system that ensures the food being served and the kitchen itself are safe and clean. Essentially, your restaurant’s record keeping, labeling, traceability, supply, delivery and training for staff. 

To fully maintain food safety, food hygiene has to be put into practice. Food hygiene deals directly with the storage, preparation and cooking of food.

According to Hygiene Food Safety, some key elements of food hygiene include:

1. Cleaning and sanitizing

Creating a clean and healthy workplace for your food to be cooked is vital in serving safe food to your guests.

2. Personal hygiene

Cleaning your hands thoroughly is one of the most important steps in food hygiene and protects both your restaurant staff and guests from getting sick. 

3. Temperature control

In order to keep food from expiring, keep items needing refrigerated in a cold space to stop the spread of bacteria.

4. Food storage

Similar to temperature control, proper storage for food is vital to continue serving the highest quality meals. Store perishable food and dry goods in the correct areas to reduce waste and stop germs from spreading quickly.

5. Food handling

The final pillar of food hygiene is food handling — how you manage food during storage and preparation. Reduce the risk of cross-contamination by ensuring proper handling of food throughout the entire cooking process from start to finish. 

To give your staff and guests the best possible experience and keep every single person safe from food-related illnesses, practice good food safety and food hygiene procedures. 

Cooking safety tips

Another main tool for a successful and thriving kitchen is using safe cooking tips. Keep yourself and your chefs safe by enforcing proper cooking techniques and practicing safety drills often. 

To prevent cuts, lacerations and punctures

  • Keep knives sharp and avoid using old or dull options
  • Use a cutting board when slicing or chopping food
  • Tuck fingers around the knife handle
  • Choose the right type of knife for the job
  • Store knives where you can see them 

According to the CDC, when using a food slicer or meat grinder, always use a pushing guard or hand protectant, never place food into the machine by hand and always turn the equipment off when changing food. 

To prevent slips, trips and falls

  • Clean up spills right when they happen
  • Enforce a proper dress code for all employees, including slip-resistant shoes
  • Use a ladder or step stool when getting items above your reach
  • Do not carry loads that block your view

To prevent sprains, strains and soft-tissue injuries

  • Practice safe lifting techniques
  • Store heavy boxes and products within reach
  • Use hand trucks and carts when pushing heavy items
  • Utilize mechanical equipment to perform repetitive taste when possible

To prevent burns and scalds

  • Clean grill and stove surfaces often to prevent a grease fire
  • Never stand too close or lean over hot oil
  • Wait for cooking oil to cool before getting rid of it
  • Adjust the burner flame so it covers the bottom portion of the pan and nothing more
  • Use an oven mitt or pot holder when handling hot pots or pans

Staying safe with good cooking techniques is important, but what are some good universal guidelines to follow, and what should you always avoid in the kitchen?

Universal do’s and don’ts in the kitchen

Every restaurant is unique — you bring a style of food to the table that no one else is serving. But even with different offers and one-of-a-kind spaces, most kitchens have a universal list of good rules to follow. According to Your Health and Safety Encyclopedia, these general guidelines can help your restaurant stay on track with safety, hygiene and all around good practices. 

Do

  • Always, always, always wash your hands 
  • Clean utensils, cooking equipment and electrical appliances after every use 
  • Separate raw food and ready-to-eat food
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before use
  • Keep dry food separate from liquids
  • Clean the kitchen after each food preparation
  • Replace kitchen towels, sponges and cleaning cloths regularly
  • Keep a fire extinguisher and first aid kit in the kitchen for emergency use
  • Wear appropriate and safe work attire

Similar to good principles, there are also things that every commercial kitchen should stay away from. 

Don’t

  • Wear dangly jewelry
  • Make or receive calls inside the kitchen while cooking 
  • Fill pots or pans full enough to spill or boil over
  • Leave food unattended.
  • Heat oil too quickly, which can lead to splashing
  • Use wet towels or pads
  • Operate kitchen equipment without proper training

By being aware of the do’s and don’ts of the commercial kitchen world, you’re setting yourself and your team up for success. Bring the best quality meals to the table by practicing food safety, food hygiene and remembering important cooking safety tips. 

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