Good maintenance and safety procedures are crucial for running a restaurant. Or, at least, they should be. (Never mind unfortunate counterexamples seen on shows like Kitchen Nightmares.) Keeping your equipment in proper order will improve food preparation, as well as the cleanliness of your food. Protecting your staff is important as well, particularly right now, with the industry facing a severe labor shortage. The last thing you want is a reputation for having an unsafe kitchen or restaurant. Even small things like using menu holders can make wiping them down and disinfecting an area easy for your staff.
So, in this article, we wanted to dig deep into ways you can maintain your restaurant and your equipment, to provide a safe environment for customers and staff alike. No such guide can be comprehensive, but these are some of the most important elements to focus on.
I. Maintaining Your Refrigerators
In terms of food safety, your refrigerators are possibly the most important appliance in your entire kitchen. A poorly maintained fridge can potentially ruin huge amounts of food. Beyond the obvious contamination problems, having to throw out an entire fridge's worth of food could be ruinous to your profits.
Some of the most important factors to focus on include:
- Air Filters: Just like in other devices like your HVAC system, your refrigerators' air filters will get dirty and clogged up over time. These must be periodically cleaned or replaced, or else it could lead to heat buildup that increases costs or even spoils the food.
- Gaskets and seals: Over time, the gaskets and seals on your fridge will break down, allowing cold air to escape. Check them periodically. Also, make sure they aren't allowed to get dirty - grime such as grease can break them down quickly.
- The coils: Your fridge relies on condenser and evaporator coils which can easily get dirty in a busy kitchen. The dirtier they are, the less efficient they'll be.
- Walk-in Floors: Allowing the floors of your walk-in refrigerators to become wet or dirty creates a significant slip-and-fall hazard for workers, and could potentially damage the fridge itself.
- Drains, pans, and tubes. Finally, keep a close eye on the drainage systems. If these become clogged, they can freeze - damaging the drains, or even the entire system.
II. Protecting Your Fryers
Fryers are a bit less of a health and safety consideration since boiling oil is very good at killing microorganisms. Nevertheless, they should be carefully maintained, and with an eye towards protecting your own staff from the oil.
- Keep the fans cleaned. Your fryers rely on combustion fans to keep air circulating, and these fans will get gunked up thanks to all the oil particles in the air. They should be cleaned regularly, around once a month, for best operation.
- Boil out the fryer. As a fryer is used, it's going to accumulate a layer of hardened oil/fat which can potentially create a contamination problem. This can be countered by boiling out your fryer. Basically, safely dispose of the oil, and then boil a mixture of water and fryer-cleaning liquid to remove the crust.
- Watch for gas leaks. If your fryer runs on gas, there's always the possibility of leaks. A quick and easy option is to simply spray the gas lines with soapy water. If you see bubbles, that means there's a leak. Fix it immediately, or else you have a serious fire hazard.
III. Ranges, Griddles, Grills, and Similar Hot Surfaces
Given how much food will pass across your ranges, grills, and such, keeping them clean is an absolute necessity. Even with all the heat and fire involved, there's a real risk of contamination if they go too long without cleaning.
All such hot cooking surfaces should be scrubbed or wiped down (depending on the material) at least once a day. In addition, they should receive a more thorough cleaning from time to time, around once a month. If you do a lot of messy cooking, this may need to be done more often.
Likewise, be sure to clean drip trays regularly as well.
Also, keep an eye on the overhead exhausts. These will tend to get gummed up with grease and other substances which then cause debris to stick. Clogged exhausts are a serious problem, as they create unsafe conditions.
IV. Pest Control
Few threats to a restaurant are more insidious than pest animals. Roaches, mice, and other critters will always be attracted to food preparation spaces, particularly if there's a lot of waste being generated. Keeping them out of your kitchen is absolutely paramount. If a patron ever sees a roach or other pest, it could lead to big problems or even a visit from the health inspector.
Some of the ways you can help discourage pests from entering your restaurant include:
- Promptly removing all garbage and keeping it as far from your building as possible. If you must keep it in a nearby dumpster, be sure that the dumpster is far away from entrances.
- Keep your kitchen and main floor as clean as possible. Never skimp on cleaning! There's no amount of money you can spend on cleaning which isn't worth it, compared to the potential costs of allowing infestations to happen.
- Police your exterior, watching for any cracks, holes, or other entry points that pests might use to get inside. This is especially important in the winter when they'll be naturally attracted to the heat of your kitchen.
- If you have outdoor seating, be sure to clean outside tables as soon as possible, the moment a customer leaves. If clever creatures like raccoons learn that they can get a free outdoor buffet, you'll have a very hard time making them go away.
- Utilizing bait, traps, or electronic pest control devices. Just be sure that they're safe to use in a food preparation environment. Outdoor areas, in particular, need devices to keep away flies, mosquitoes, etc.
Remember: if you ever see a pest animal, you can assume there are others in hiding. One visible roach means there are plenty of others you can't see. Should you or your staff ever spot a pest, you would do well to proactively call in pest control services. Even if they don't have much to do, that's a lot better than letting an infestation go unaddressed.
V. Encouraging Worker Safety
Finally, remember that your workers are also your partners in keeping your restaurant safe, clean, and well-maintained. Any training should have a strong emphasis on health and safety. Unskilled cooks can improve with practice, but dirty cooks are an inherent threat to your business.
As a few suggestions:
- Have regular training and retraining. Cleanliness and maintenance should be heavily emphasized, and regular training/refreshers will get this point across. In particular, if you spot a problem - such as your grills going uncleaned - this should be turned into a training opportunity for your entire staff.
- Educate your staff on dangers. Don't simply be dictatorial about cleaning and maintenance requirements. Take the time to explain why these procedures are so important. Employees might not realize why cleaning grease is so vital, for example, and will be more reliable if they understand the reasoning.
- Have a cleaning/maintenance checklist with signoffs. If you formally write down all the important cleaning and maintenance steps, this will greatly increase the chances of everything being done. These checklists should include a sign-off area, so there's never any question as to whether a particular step has been performed. This also encourages accountability among your staff.
- Keep plenty of first-aid products available. Accidents will always happen, especially in a busy kitchen. Your staff should always have first-aid kits easily available from a prominent location. Keep an eye on these kits and be sure to replenish them if they start to run low on necessary items.
- Consider investing in maintenance tracking software. A modern Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) software package can track every critical maintenance and cleaning detail, and issue alerts if required steps have been skipped. This software will be a bit of an investment, but in the long term, it will more than pay for itself by streamlining maintenance and reducing the chances of important elements being neglected.
- Encourage workers to report any anomalies. Big problems or mechanical breakdowns are almost always foreshadowed by smaller problems. Encourage your workers to report any problems with the hardware, even if they seem minor. Taking care of such issues as soon as they arise will usually prevent larger problems down the line.
Properly Maintain Your Restaurant with Our Help
Zanduco Restaurant Equipment & Supplies want your restaurant to be as safe and well maintained as possible. We carry a full line of products that promote health, maintenance, and safety, as well as all of the janitorial cleaning supplies you might need.
If you have any questions, just contact us and shop today!