It’s time to get serious about your sanitation efforts! September is Food Safety Month, giving you the perfect excuse to revamp your whole system. After all, it isn’t always easy to clean and sanitize your equipment when serving food remotely at a catering event. But, that doesn’t make it any less important.
Why Sanitation is Vital to Your Success
It is shocking but true: 48 million people are sickened every year by food-borne illnesses (CDC), with 128,000 being hospitalized and 3,000 dying. If you are in the food industry, you know how dangerous poor sanitation can be; especially when preparing and serving food outside of a normal kitchen. Catering opens you up to more levels of contamination than would be found in a standard commercial setting.
So what can you do to ensure that every guest is served safe food? Setting up an effective sanitation center at every job can go a long way to increasing the safety of your food – and decreasing the risk of contamination.
Location ... Location ... Location
The first thing you need to do when setting up your food prep and cleanup area at a catering job is finding a good place to stage the sanitation station. It needs to be out of the way, but also easy to use. Keeping the cleaning and sanitation station near your prep and cooking area makes it easier for those on the line to utilize it without stepping away from their assigned tasks.
The Three-Step Rule
Cleaning your utensils isn’t enough – they must also be rinsed and sanitized to kill off dangerous microorganism that can infect your food. That’s why it is vital to create a three-step system which includes:
Without all three, you're putting your guests at risk of a food borne illness.
Choosing the Right Sanitizer
Remember, soap and water doesn’t kill off many microorganisms that can make people sick. It simply cleans off the soiled remains of food particles and dirt. That is why you need to take the extra step to sanitize your tools too. According to industry experts, there are three main types of sanitize that you can use in a commercial setting:
Chlorine based Sanitizers: this is the most common kind of sanitizer to use, but remember that it should be used in concentrations of 50-200 ppm, depending on your individual state’s health codes.
Quaternary Ammonia: this is an excellent choice that works well in the catering environment. Be sure to sue a concentration of 200 ppm for best results
Iodine based Solutions: iodine based sanitizers work well and are preferred by some food industry experts
It doesn’t matter which of these sanitizers you decide to use. Just be sure to follow the instructions carefully (and check for your state sanitation requirements), to ensure that you are mixing the right amount for your sanitizing purposes.
The Final Step: Proper Drying
Microorganisms live on all surfaces. No matter how well you clean and sanitize your dishes, utensils and pots, they won’t be completely clear of microorganisms. But, you can keep dangerous bacteria from building up by drying your tools properly.
While some people may prefer towel drying every item, this actually causes more cross contamination than simple air drying. Of course, you have to have the right drying equipment to ensure that water doesn’t lay on any surface (where bacteria can grow), or that no condensation builds up on lids or other items.
The best way to air dry kitchen equipment is to make sure that the air can move around and through each item. This is best done using tool-specific drying racks that either screw permanently into the wall (found in standard commercial kitchen) or that can be rolled away (which is needed in an off-site catering setting). No matter what type of commercial drying racks you choose, be sure that they:
- Allow every plate, dish, utensil, pot and tray to have air circulating around it. This will prevent water from laying on anything, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Do not allow dishes to be stacked. Air needs to be able to move between items.
- Allow kitchen staff to inspect dishes for cleanliness during the drying process.
- Don’t let the risk of a food borne illness ruin your next catering event. Establish good sanitation practices and insist that every employee follow them!