We Are Chefs

The Importance of Kitchen Design for Proper Food Safety Protocol

By Francine L. Shaw

Many of us enter a kitchen without thinking about the design, as far as food safety is concerned.  I visited a facility that was 95% finished before anyone realized that a three-bay sink–critical to proper sanitation of dishes and other equipment–hadn’t been part of the design plan. This facility had limited space, so it wasn’t possible to bump out a wall or expand the space. The sink had to be installed somewhere. The builders ended up placing it right beside a floor mixer, with the wash sink on the mixer end! They were literally inches apart, giving ample opportunity for dirty dishwater to splash into the dough mixer and contaminate the food. The restaurant team agreed not to wash dishes at the same time they were utilizing the mixer, which was inefficient and problematic in their day-to-day activities. The designer/architect should have done a plan review and consulted a food safety expert before beginning construction.  By doing so, they would have potentially eliminated this problem.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contaminated utensils and equipment are a top risk factor for foodborne illness outbreaks. If equipment is difficult to clean, it’s more likely not to be cleaned properly (if at all). For instance, meat slicers and soft-serve ice cream machines are often difficult to clean, and some brands are better than others. There are soft serve machines that have hundreds of pieces that need to be washed, rinsed and sanitized regularly, which means your staff must be willing to commit several hours of labor to this task.

Meat slicers on the surface may look nice and shiny but look a little closer, behind the blade. Take off the piece that holds the sharpening stone, look in the crevices and around the dial. It is beyond gross and disgusting. Meats are, of course, perishable foods that easily breed many forms of bacteria and other microorganisms. Small pieces of meat or other sliced foods usually get caught in and collect between the blade and the slicing machine of a meat slicer. If left for a period of time, microorganisms will grow in and around the meat particles, posing a health risk for the foods sliced on the unclean machine.

Moldy gaskets in a cooler.

Additionally, I’ve seen gaskets around refrigeration unit doors that were growing mold and other bacteria, making it unsanitary and potentially harmful to store foods inside.  They now make refrigeration units with a different type of seal (and no gaskets) that’s much easier to clean and maintain.

Cross-contamination and cross-contact are important factors to consider when designing a restaurant. One design flaw could have life-threatening ramifications.

When planning, designing and building a restaurant kitchen:

The seemingly minor details in a kitchen (grout, moldings, etc.) are truly a big deal in terms of keeping guests safer. And bigger issues–such as placement of a three-compartment sink–must be carefully considered at the start of a design project. While it’s critical to have a competent design and construction team for your project, don’t overlook the importance of having a food safety expert consult on the project from concept to implementation. Food safety experts bring a valuable perspective to the table, and can advise on all matters from big (how kitchen design impacts food safety and reduces foodborne illness risks) to small (the easiest gaskets to clean and keep sanitary).  By working collaboratively, your design, construction and food safety expert can maximize your future successes and minimize food safety risks.

Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers a robust roster of services, including consulting, food safety training, food safety inspections, norovirus policies for employees, norovirus clean-up procedures, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. The Food Safety Training Solutions team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, casinos, and convenience stores. The company has helped numerous clients, including Paradies Lagardère, McDonald’s, Subway, Marriott, Domino’s, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America, Dairy Queen, and Omni Hotel and Resorts, prevent foodborne illnesses. Additionally, they work with restaurants of all sizes, schools, medical facilities, convenience stores, hotels and casinos.  Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, iHeartRadio, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.