How to Safely Store Prepared Foods in Your Restaurant's Kitchen

Foods go through many stages once in your restaurant’s kitchen. At all stages, proper handling and storage are essential. Even once foods have been fully prepared and are ready to eat, they must be stored safely in order to maintain quality, taste, and most importantly, safety.

It is true that most food-borne illnesses are associated with ingredients like raw meat, seafood, or raw eggs. But even prepared foods can be mishandled or improperly stored, and this can potentially cause serious health problems for your restaurant guests or staff.

Below, find several key guidelines for properly storing prepared foods in your restaurant’s kitchen.

Rule #1 – Start by preparing foods according to safe prep & wrap guidelines.

Prepared foods can include anything from premade cakes and desserts to snacks, sandwiches, and hors d’oeuvre trays. When prepping these items, always do so in a clean work space. Never prepare foods where raw meats, seafood, or other potentially-bacteria-harboring foods were recently prepped.

Moreover, always wash your hands immediately before and after handling any type of food used in prep. Wash with soap and warm water for 20 to 30 seconds. Wash utensils, prepping areas, and cutting boards with soap and water as well.

Rule #2 – Always store prepared foods on the top shelf of your refrigeration unit.

All foods need to be stored off the floor. In some cities and states, health codes even mandate that foods are kept a minimum of 12 inches off the ground.

Within your refrigeration unit, there are additional storage rules as well. Namely, foods should be stored according to a hierarchy in which prepared foods are stored at the very top, on the highest shelf. Below prepared foods, you should put fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood, beef and pork, ground meat, and poultry — in that order.

Finally, never stuff your refrigeration unit full. Make sure you have enough shelf space to keep your items organized neatly. You want to be able to quickly and easily see labels and dates. Furthermore, when grabbing for an item, you shouldn't have to take three or four other things out before getting what you need. Refrigeration overcrowding often leads to mistakes in food use and potential health dangers.

Rule #3 – Have a dating system in place, and enforce the “First In, First Out” rule.

Your restaurant kitchen should have a specific system in place for labeling, dating, and organizing the food in your refrigeration unit. Abide by this system closely, and teach all kitchen staff, waitstaff, bus boys, and other workers to know it and use it as well.

Within the top shelf where your prepared foods are kept, you’ll want to have a sub-system for organizing how to use the prepared foods you’ve stored. The best system is to abide by the “First In, First Out” rule. Commonly known as FIFO, the “First In, First Out” rule essentially means that whatever is oldest in your refrigeration unit is what should be used first — as long as it’s within the expiration date.

If you are ever in doubt for any reason about a prepared food item and whether it’s safe to eat, throw it out — even if it is technically within the expiration date. Safety comes first.

Why Are Food Storage Rules So Important?

As a restaurant manager, chef, line cook, or other kitchen staff member, you have the safety and health of your restaurant guests in your hands. It is up to you to ensure that your kitchen is clean, organized, and safe for food preparation, handling, and storage. Part of ensuring a clean kitchen is making sure prepared foods are handled and stored according to strict safety guidelines.