Highway to the non-danger zone
The danger zone is not that sweet spot that only Maverick lives in with Kenny Loggins providing the soundtrack. It’s the temperature where bacteria grow. It’s the un-fun, not sexy part of the job, but it’s the most important in our due diligence to provide a safe environment to our customers. When people look at food safety in a cavalier way it really gets to me. It’s obvious from how covered in carbon or grease the tools and stainless steel of a kitchen are, what level of effort that crew puts in, or doesn’t put into their kitchen. With that said, many dangerous things can happen even in a clean kitchen. Even the “cleanest” kitchen needs strong standards for abiding by temperature controls because that’s what gets people sick.
From an equipment perspective you need to make sure your refrigeration and freezers are maintained, fully operational, and on a maintenance schedule. That means:
• A large, easy-to-read temperature gauge in each refrigerator. Not the super cheap small one. Go big.
• Your kitchen manager each day should document on paper, or a cloud-based document, what the temperature of each piece of equipment was that day to keep standards and avoid a problem. If you wait or do this sporadically you will inevitably either lose product or get someone sick.
• Have a maintenance deal where someone certified to service your brand of refrigeration comes and services as well as cleans all your refrigeration at least every three months. This is cheaper in the long run to maintain your equipment, avoid downtime and keep standards. I suggest giving them a free pizza or at least a slice so they want to come to your store and keep your machines active.
You should, I repeat should, have a test to be able to work in foodservice. If your state doesn’t mandate this and your staff doesn’t have a health department license, that should not mean you’re off the hook. Here is my guide with which we train staff at Andolini’s. This is it, what we use in addition to their health department training, which is fairly rigorous in Oklahoma. Here are all the basics any pizzeria needs. If you or your staff doesn’t know this by heart, you MUST teach it ASAP.
Here are the basics and then some for pizzeria foodservice:
Temperature. Yes, The danger zone, the range of temperature in which food-borne bacteria can grow. The danger zone is between roughly 41 F and 140 F. That means anything under or above that is factually growing bacteria.
Time allowable in the “danger zone” as you go from cold to properly hot:
Food must go from under 41 F to more than 165 F in under two hours. Example: Meat sauce must go from walk-in to ready to use more than 165 F in under two hours.
The minimum temperature of cooked meat: should be 165 F for chicken: 165 F and 155 F for ground meat.
• Cooling food times must go from under 140 F to under 70 F in under two hours. Then food must go from under 70 F to under 41 F in the next four hours, and 140 F to 41 F in less than six hours For example: pasta cooked at 1 p.m. must be 70 F by 3 p.m., and 41 F by 7 p.m.
Tips for faster cool down include:
Use metal bins instead of plastic bins.
Keep the lid off so heat leaves product and put on after a few hours.
Use smaller bins to help heat leave product quicker.
Place metal bin in ice bath.
Thawing Food Safely
- In the walk-in
- Under running water
- As you cook it
- NEVER just left out in the open or left out overnight
Washing hands. Yes that’s obvious, but is it obvious to your staff? Wash:
- when you start your shift or come back to the line from up front or outside.
- when you touch your face or any non-clean item or surface.
- after working with meat or chicken
When you wash your hands, lather for 20 seconds. That means sing Happy Birthday twice or the first verse in “Juicy” by Notorious BIG. Starting from “It was all a dream” right up until BIG says “It’s all good.”
When to wear gloves.
- When you work on a ready-to-eat line (salad station, appetizer station, expo).
- Gloves do not guarantee sanitation. They need to be changed as often as hands need to be washed.
Dish Station Sanitation Notes
- Never stack wet dishes.
- Remove all adhesives from bins.
- Check sanitizer and all cleaners for proper potency.
- All cleaners must be clean and properly labeled.
- Never eat in the kitchen.
- Keep all bins labeled and dated.
- Always practice FIFO –– first in, first out.
- Keep all of your hair inside your hat.
All unpackaged food prepared or unprepared should be kept in prep containers and labeled legibly with the following information (no exceptions!):
- Item name
- Date prepared
- Initials of preparer
- Time (if item is cooling)
In addition to just putting this info in front of your team, create a fill-in-the-blank test so you know they know what they’re doing.
Not knowing these basics yourself is careless and irresponsible. The same goes for your store if your staff doesn’t know them either. Teach these items and continue the education by doing par checks on them to ensure these guidelines are being followed.
Also, invest in solid probe thermometers for each person in your kitchen to keep on their person and use often. Always sanitize them after use. A simple purchase like that, for each kitchen member of your staff from you, shows you take this seriously and so should they.
Now that you have this info, go and gather up your staff. Get just a few key people together to ask some basic questions like:
- How much time do they have to let pasta cool down?
- What temperature is chicken safe to serve at?
If you don’t get a split-second reaction with a correct answer then you know you have work to do.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is a frequent speaker at the International Pizza Expo family of tradeshows.