If you’re a restaurant owner; kitchen safety should be your top priority. Since you're operating in a space with many possible hazards and a constant stream of customers, you have a huge responsibility.
Kitchen hazards pose their greatest threat when you or your staff are not aware of either their presence or the degree of harm they could cause when ignored. This hazard awareness can fade over time, when you first opened or took on new staff you were no doubt meticulous about every possible danger. Yet many restaurant owners fail to maintain this tight grip on kitchen hazards.
With that in mind, we have compiled a list of the most common kitchen hazards which you need to be aware of, along with quick tips and tricks to avoid the dangerous situations they could bring about.
Bacteria and germs:
Foodborne illnesses are one of the most serious threats in any kitchen. In a place made for preparing and consuming food, it is essential you operate in an environmental that it is clean and healthy. Not only is a customer falling ill from something they ate an obvious disaster, it can be highly detrimental to the reputation of your business.
Because of that, you must be aware of bacteria as soon as you get into work. Avoid wearing the same clothes you wore outside when working in the kitchen – and make sure you’ve changed into your chef’s blacks to avoid carrying any harmful bacteria in.
Next up comes your hands. You touch numerous things in the day, and each thing you touch introduces new bacteria on your hands. Even if they’re not visually dirty it is quite possible that harmful bacteria is present. For this reason, you’re going to want to give them a wash as soon as you get into the kitchen. But that's not all, make a consistent effort to wash them as the workday goes along. This is most vital after touching raw goods, cleaning products or working on food prep.
After a while, you’ll develop habits that lead you to wash your hands instinctively. And before you know it, you won’t have to think twice when you get into work. Along with washing your hands, it’s essential you’re always on top of cleaning your floors and surfaces. Mop and brush the kitchen floors at least twice a day to ensure they’re kept clean.
Sanitising your surfaces is also key here. This is where the majority of food preparation is going to take place, so cleaning surfaces should be at the forefront of your employees minds. Ensure you are sanitising countertops before and after you prepare anything on them, and try to leave the sanitising spray on the surface for at least 30 seconds to a minute to make sure it takes effect.
Deep scratches and crevices are also something to keep an eye out for. These small cracks in the surface may appear tiny, but they can be a safe haven for bacteria to thrive. This is why using a chopping board is a great idea, as this helps preserve the surface and save you any replacement costs. However, if you’re using a chopping board you need to make sure it has a deep scrub and clean afterwards to ensure no bacteria remains.
Slipping and falling in a kitchen can be an unfortunately common occurrence if you don’t apply the appropriate measures to prevent it. The constant presence of knives, hot surfaces and oil fryers - amongst other potential dangers - means that a fall could have serious consequences.
In the past, I’ve witnessed team members taking a fall while carrying new stock or taking a full table of meals over to some customers. All this amounts to a loss on behalf of the restaurant, not to mention the possibility of one of your leading chefs needing time off due to injury. When considering what could bring about a fall, the most common risks occur while mopping the floor.
As previously mentioned, mopping the floor is essential to keeping the kitchen clean. However, mopping for cleanliness is dangerous if you are oblivious of the risk you are simultaneously creating by wetting the floor. To prevent this hazard, after mopping the floor always be conscious of the need to dry mop afterwards. This step is as important as mopping, so make sure it's done straight away to avoid slips and falls.
Another to note, is that you need to ensure you are using a clean and dry mop. This is important both because a used dry mop will not fully dry the floor and because it poses the danger of spreading bacteria and germs onto your freshly mopped floor.
In addition to mopping the kitchen floor, it's important to be aware of other potential trip hazards. You’re going to want to keep areas that are in constant use free of wires, to ensure others don’t trip over them. On top of this, look out for little things that could cause a fall, such as uneven surfaces or cluttered floors - being aware of these will make your kitchen a safer space.
Being the busy place it is, your kitchen will see its fair share of incoming deliveries and large boxes of stock - not to mention the occasional arrival of new equipment. Because of all this, heavy lifting is bound to happen. This kitchen hazard is all too often disregarded by both managers and staff who underestimate the need to go about lifting things the proper way.
However, improper lifting could cause a great array of injuries for your staff. Shoulder and back injuries are a common outcome, along with the risk of pulled or strained muscles. So, getting yourself and your employees in-the-know about correct lifting procedures is essential for preventing the dangers that heavy objects could cause.
For easier understanding of how to go about this, the lifting procedure is best described in four simple steps: preparation, lifting, carrying, placing down. First off, assess the load you’ll be lifting. Consider how heavy the load is going to be and establish whether it is going to be awkward to lift. If the load looks too heavy, or would be too difficult to handle alone, you’ll want to go to a colleague for help.
It's also good to think about the hold you’ll be able to get on the load, if it would be difficult to lift by hand then consider mechanical means if they are available to you.
Just before lifting make sure that your path is clear and there is no potential for a fall. Then lift the load by bending your knees, not bending over. Make sure your back remains straight and the load is kept central and close to your chest.
When carrying, make sure you’re using your feet to turn - do not twist the body as this could injure your back or spine. Make sure your whole body is facing the direction you are heading, and if you start to get tired then set the load down in the same manner it was lifted.
Finally, when lowering your load, remember to keep your back straight. Then bend your knees, keeping the load close to you as you set it down - and finally release when you are comfortable with its positioning.
Where there is a sharp object there is a hazard. Knives are no exception to this, so ensure you are constantly aware of their danger if handled incorrectly. Whilst this may sound obvious, you should avoid running or quickly walking with a knife in hand. It’s easy to ignore this when in a hurry, however you risk serious, if not fatal, injuries if you slip while carrying a knife - it's never worth the risk.
Another thing to keep up to date with is sharpening your knives. Having a sharpening device nearby is always handy. This allows you to maintain the original sharpness of the blade, otherwise you risk your knives going blunt. A blunt knife is a hazard as it means you’re going to need to apply greater force when chopping or slicing. As a result of this, you are more likely to slip with the knife and cut yourself.
Another thing to be aware of when using a knife is that you’re using the proper chopping technique. Chopping methods such as the claw grip are there to provide both a safe and efficient method of chopping. Therefore, being aware of how to use these techniques properly will minimize the risk of sustaining any cuts.
Gas operated equipment:
If you’re operating with any gas-powered stoves or wok stations then it is vital that you are in control of the flame at all times. Obviously, an open flame poses the consistent risk of causing a fire if it is improperly handled or left unsupervised.
One huge factor when using any gas-powered stove is the emission of carbon dioxide, which is not only harmful to your health - but is also colourless and odorless, making it almost impossible to detect. You’ll know if you’ve been exposed to this dangerous gas by its key symptoms, so look out for any of the following: nausea, dizziness, vomiting, headaches or a fast heart rate. If any of these are affecting your staff immediately cease usage of any gas stoves and look to give them a deep clean or possible replacement.
To avoid the possibility of any of these damaging side effects make sure you have a carbon dioxide detector installed in your kitchen within the proximity of any gas stoves or wok stations. On top of this, there are other risks involved with gas operated equipment.
The flame level on your stove can be easily operated by the attached lever or handle. Most gas operated stoves will have multiple options regarding flame control, so ensure that you are using no more than the appropriate setting for the required task.
Having the flame set too high opens the possibility that the flame might reach out from under the pot or pan which you are cooking in. The risk here is that you either catch the flame with your fingers or it sets alight something in the immediate proximity.
Something to always mind out for when using any gas stove is the utensils you’re using. Firstly, choosing the right sized pan or pot will ensure that your flame does remain underneath at all times, minimizing the aforementioned risk of either sustaining a burn or causing a fire. Secondly, make sure that you don’t use any potentially flammable equipment, you’ll also want to avoid using entirely metal utensils as these will get very hot which can pose a risk to you whilst cooking.
One last note on gas stoves is to make sure there’s a fire extinguisher nearby in case something does go wrong. You should also ensure all staff members are aware of how to use it properly in the event of any fires.
Correct food storage:
The way you are storing food in your restaurant kitchen directly impacts the possibility of spreading foodborne illnesses. Whether it's the fridge, freezer or cupboard each item of food requires proper storage to ensure it is kept fresh. Failure to adhere to proper storage of your food brings about the risk of harmful illnesses such as salmonella or E. coli which are a serious risk for your staff or customers.
When it comes to the storage of perishables, you need to ensure you don’t leave them out at room temperature, so put them in the freezer or store them right away. When it comes to the temperature of your fridges and freezers, stick to keeping the former at or below 4 degrees celsius and the latter no warmer than -18 degrees. It’s also important you perform temperature checks at least twice daily to make sure neither your fridge nor your freezer has become too warm.
Along with monitoring and sustaining your fridge and freezer temperatures you’ll want to make sure you follow any special instructions on the item’s label. This is because even if it isn't a meat or fish product there is a chance it needs to remain chilled - so it’s best to check.
Lastly, don’t hold back when it comes to throwing things away. It is always better to sustain a small loss in your profit than to send a table home with food poisoning. So, if something has been improperly stored at, shows signs of mould growth or simply looks or smells unusual then chuck it right away.
On the topic of correct food handling procedures, it is worth giving a quick mention to cross contamination. Cross contamination occurs when bacteria from one item is transferred onto another, such as raw chicken coming into contact with chopped-up vegetables.
This, like the incorrect storage of food products, brings about the risk of dangerous illnesses if proper procedure is neglected. Thankfully, when the correct attention is given, cross contamination is easily avoided.
First off, ensure employees at all stations are in the habit of frequently washing their hands, remember hands may look clean but could be carrying dangerous bacteria invisible to the human eye. This is even more vital when directly handling any raw food products.
Next, it’s important to buy and use different equipment for each food item. This is best done by utilizing different colour schemes depending on what is being prepared. For example, use a yellow set of utensils and chopping boards for raw meats and a blue set for fish and so on. This makes the right tools easily identifiable and also allows your staff members to pick up on anyone that may be using the wrong coloured utensils.
Once you’re finished using any utensils or chopping boards, ensure you give them a deep scrub and wash with soapy water afterwards to keep them clean and safe to be used again.
Shelves and high places:
Any shelves in your kitchen present the danger of either goods falling off them or a staff member taking a fall while trying to reach something. This minor, yet ever-present danger can be quickly avoided if goods are stored sensibly. When it comes to placing something in a high place the first thing to look out for is overcrowding. If it looks like the shelf may be full already, consider storing the item elsewhere.
Even if you’re in a rush, incorrectly storing anything on an already crowded shelf creates the possibility that the next person who accesses the shelf may knock something off, or something may fall by itself. So be conscious of proper storage to prevent the knock-on effects of falling objects in a busy kitchen.
When it comes to reaching high places, do not climb on any surfaces or stretch too hard to reach it. Both of these poor decisions create the risk of injury by either falling or straining a muscle. If you’re going to use a step ladder in the kitchen, make sure it is frequently wiped down to prevent grease buildup which could make the steps slippery. On top of this, try to have someone nearby to hold your legs or waist to provide you with extra stability.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, everything on this list is equally important and should be top priority. For the safety of both the restaurant employees and the customers dining, it is essential that correct procedure is closely followed at all times.
Hopefully this list has been a clear guide or a well needed refresher on how to avoid the most common kitchen hazards - remember to keep all staff trained on these and to frequently recap important practices to keep your kitchen as safe as can be!