5 Food Safety Tips for Your Restaurant

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that roughly 48 million Americans get sick due to foodborne illness every year. Additionally, roughly 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 actually die of foodborne diseases each year.

The food service industry has an obligation to do everything possible to mitigate these occurrences. Beyond the obvious ethical concerns, the fallout from a patron who gets sick from a foodborne illness possibly contracted at a given establishment can be significant. Concerns range from reputational to financial, and it’s important for proprietors to be prepared for anything. 

Restaurant owners and managers know they must comply with health department guidelines, but also recognize that a few bad online reviews can have a major impact on their reputation and their bottom line. One of the frequent claims made to restaurant insurance carriers and voiced on social media platforms is a real or perceived foodborne illness. Whether it is the flu, an allergy, or just something that didn’t sit well with a customer, it is easy to place the blame on the food service industry. The most successful approach to battling this issue is to be proactive with your food safety program and use food safety best practices that can keep customers safe and protect your valuable reputation. Below we share several food safety tips to adopt into your food safety program.

Be Food Safe, Prepare with Care

Here are the basics:

  • CLEAN – Wash hands, utensils and surfaces often.
  • SEPARATE – Don’t cross-contaminate.
  • COOK – Use a food thermometer.
  • CHILL – Chill food promptly.

Related reading, ‘7 Common Food Safety Errors.

5 Food Safety Tips for Your Restaurant 

1. Store Food Safely

  • Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. That drops to 1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F.
  • Check the temperature of your refrigerator and freezer with an appliance thermometer. The refrigerator should be at 40 °F or below and the freezer at 0 °F or below.
  • Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats and variety meats within 2 days; other beef, veal, lamb or pork within 3 to 5 days.
  • Perishable food such as meat and poultry should be wrapped securely to maintain quality and to prevent meat juices from getting onto other food.
  • To maintain quality when freezing meat and poultry in its original package, wrap the package again with foil or plastic wrap that is recommended for the freezer.
  • Always use a clear standard labeling method on opened and/or prepared food so that everyone knows the time and date it was opened or prepared.
  • Canned foods are safe indefinitely as long as they are not exposed to freezing temperatures or temperatures above 90 °F. If the cans look ok, they are safe to use. Discard cans that are dented, rusted or swollen. High-acid canned food (tomatoes, fruits) will keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months; low-acid canned food (meats, vegetables) for 2 to 5 years.

2. Prepare Food with Care

  • Find separate preparation areas in the workspace for raw and cooked food.
  • Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that held raw food.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and work surfaces frequently with hot, soapy water.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers or handling pets.

3. Cook Food to Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

The only way to tell if harmful bacteria are destroyed is to cook food to minimum temperatures.

  • Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, casseroles and other food. Check temperature in several places to be sure food is cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature.
  • Never partially cook food for finishing later because you increase the risk of bacterial growth.

4. Hold Food Safely 

Keep Food Out of the “Danger Zone” (40-140 °F).

  • Keep hot food hot — at or above 140 °F. Place cooked food in chafing dishes, preheated steam tables, warming trays and/or slow cookers.
  • Keep cold food cold — at or below 40 °F. Place food in containers on ice.

5. When In Doubt, Throw it Out!

  • Discard food left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours; 1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F.
  • Place food to be stored in the walk-in cooler in shallow containers. Refrigerate or freeze immediately.
  • Use cooked food products within 4 days.

[Download the Foodborne Illness Prevention White Paper]

Just taking a few minutes to remind your kitchen staff of these safety procedures during the next pre-shift meeting could prevent you from dealing with a foodborne illness claim or a negative review. Ensure your customers always have a five-star dining experience by having a robust food safety program.  

This is just a quick review of some key areas of maintaining a safe and healthy food service environment. For more information on common errors in foodborne illness prevention, visit our Risk Management Library. You can also view available programs and discounts to save on the ServSafe Food Handler, Manager Food Safety, and Allergens training and certification that is available to all Society Insurance policyholders.  

Note: The information provided is adapted from published guidance from the United States Department of Agriculture. More detailed food safety information from the USDA is available here.

Did you know that Society’s comprehensive restaurant coverage includes protection for contamination exposures? For more details about insurance coverage for your food service operation, contact your local independent Society agent.


Shelby has a master's degree from St. Louis University's School of Public Health. He has worked as a Risk Improvement Representative for Society Insurance since 2010. Shelby has been a safety and risk management resource for contractors, supermarkets, convenience stores, the hospitality industry, health care and higher education. He is a member of the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) and the Insurance Loss Control Association (ILCA).

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