Restaurants have a natural challenge that just comes with the territory: cleanliness and food safety. It seems not a day goes by without another horror story in the news about contaminated food products. Restaurants get routinely shut down by the Health Department. Even if things don’t get that bad for your business, all it takes is for a delivery person to see a puddle of muck on the floor in your kitchen for a bad word-of-mouth campaign to start circulating about your establishment. The media reports cases of food poisoning on a daily basis in spite of the fact that the fast food business is flourishing.

It seems fast food has become the American way and the public will go blindly forth ordering with the expectation that the food has been prepared in sanitary conditions. From bug problems to breeding bacteria, fast food restaurants especially have countless issues behind their counters. The rules are put into place and enforced by management, inspectors, the Food and Drug Administration, and so forth, are there as the minimum defense, and just the beginning. If you are the manager, awareness on your part isn’t enough; you have to be vigilant in ensuring that every employee knows and follows the rules to the letter.

One of the most common causes of food poisoning is bacteria transfer, which is due to food not being properly cooked or kept at the proper temperature. With such a demand for fast food, it is often all too easy for the employees to compromise their duties for the sake of saving time, and before they know it, they’ve served a meal that carries a nasty risk of food poisoning. The rules should be followed every time, not some of the time, as is unfortunately sometimes the case.

It is up to the management to see that the employees are properly doing their job, and, of course, effective management makes all of the difference in this endeavor. Close supervision is a necessity to help ensure that the work is being performed properly. Employees must care about their job and in return feel valued so that they will be more willing to perform their responsibilities correctly. Too often, factors like low pay, long hours, and little recognition makes employees more likely to burn out and do less than what is expected of them. Also, improper training of staff leads to improper fulfillment of job duties.

Unclean areas like counters or tables where food has been prepared can also spread bacteria and cause food poisoning. That is why it is important for employees to clean up after themselves and make sure that their work space is kept fastidiously clean. Also, food containers that haven’t been properly washed and stock that hasn’t been properly rotated are havens for bacteria.

Employees who don’t wash their hands before returning to their work station can unknowingly spread bacteria and other diseases. That is why it is of the utmost importance that employees wash their hands and also why every fast food restaurant should have at least one sink designated for hand washing only, with properly posted instructions, and including the necessary soap, paper towels. Wearing gloves when in contact with food helps as added protection, but even gloves can touch unclean surfaces just like hands can, so they need to be changed after coming into contact with unsanitary surfaces and items.

Even pests can present a challenge to cleanliness in fast food working environments, so it is important that restaurants are regularly inspected and treated for pests. No one wants an unwelcome visitor in their food, but it does happen more than we’d like to think. If an employee witnesses any pest making contact with the food, the entire amount of food in the container should be discarded.

Hair nets are a good idea for keeping stray hairs and dander out of food. Hats are more often the rule, but less effective in preventing hairs and dander from getting into the food. Wearing long hair tied back in a ponytail or braid is a must. And while we’re at it, today’s generation does need to be made aware that the extreme fashion statements are out of place in a professional kitchen. There are many work environments where dreadlocks, mohawks, and afros present no problem, but the kitchen is not one of them.

A fast food kitchen is set up to be convenient, but not always easy to clean. Every establishment should go above and beyond the norm to ensure that food is properly handled. Customers, before ordering their next meal at your restaurant, are these days taking a close look at the employees and the environment if they can. They may not be able to spot what goes on behind the scenes, but they trust their instincts for what they are able to observe.

This is one more reason why it’s better not to understaff. Ensure that your expectations of your employees are reasonable, and hold regular training programs. Even taking a few hours out of a day between meal times to conduct a food safety drill, involving the whole team, will go a long way to promoting healthy practices in your kitchen. Dropping in for a spot check every now and then will also be effective. To prevent your employees from resenting your surprise inspection, show up ready to help out for an hour or so during the shift. You will have an opportunity to set a good example, as well as boost morale by showing the staff that you can work beside them as equals.

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