Safety first

At your pizzeria, you go to great lengths to make sure the dining room is esthetically pleasing and the kitchen is well-stocked with food. But when was the last time you examined your kitchen’s safety features? Do you feel confident you’ve taken all of the steps necessary to prevent an accident from happening in your kitchen? When business gets hectic, mistakes can happen: Maybe an employee spills tomato sauce and forgets to wipe it up, or a pizzamaker doesn’t stop to wash his hands before he adds toppings to a pizza. 

Kitchen safety goes beyond stocking a first-aid kit and burn spray; it encompasses an entire set of guidelines that should be taught to and enforced for all employees, and should be a high priority on every restaurant owner’s list. According to Department of Labor statistics, 4,374 cases of nonfatal injuries and illnesses occurred in full-service restaurants in 2006. If a few simple preventive measures would have been taken beforehand, this number could have been greatly decreased.

Jack Fell Down…

You’ve got customers in the dining room, calls coming in and cooks in the kitchen whipping up pizzas at 90 miles per hour. If an accident happens, you need to know that your preventive safety measures are there to back you up. 

First and foremost, the design and layout of the kitchen should make movement and tasks quick and easy for employees. Does your kitchen allow enough room for your employees to move around? Does your kitchen equipment setup make sense? These are just a couple of important questions you should first ask yourself when considering safety. As Michelle Bushey, design director and partner with Vision 360, a hospitality design and development firm based in Dallas, says, “The more efficient you are in the back of the house, the more profitable you will be in the front of the house.” Try going into your kitchen and walking out the daily tasks your employees perform. You may ask your employees to mark areas of the kitchen they feel are unsafe with a sticky note. Working together, you can adjust equipment and stations placement so everyone can safely maneuver the kitchen while working.

Kitchen design is essential, but installing floor treatments can be one smart step toward safety. Food Services of America, a Seattle-based food distributor, suggests a chemical treatment and floor cleaning chemicals with good grease-removal and slip-resistant properties. You’ll find many different options when it comes to floor treatments. Gary McArthur, president of First Class Pizza in Orange, California, says he installed nonslip tile and places rubber mats where they are needed. Or, as an alternative safety measure, you could ask your employees to purchase shoes from a company that supplies slip resistant shoes and shoe covers. 

It’s also important for employees to wear proper attire at all times. Employees should have a uniform of some kind, and it should be cleaned after every day they work. The U.S. Department of Labor requires employees to pay for the cleaning and caring of their work attire. McArthur says his employees always wear uniforms. “We check to make sure they are clean each day,” he notes. When picking out uniforms, keep in mind that the types of fabric available, such as high-performance fabrics that absorb sweat and moisture, stretch-based textiles for comfort, and flame-resistant fabrics, can enhance safety measures; the type of uniform fabric chosen can be another step toward better kitchen safety, because it can protect your employees.

Squeaky Clean

A clean uniform and smart design mean nothing if your kitchen or the people who work in it are not clean. A restaurant kitchen should be kept thoroughly clean at all times. Keep a checklist of cleaning chores that can be done throughout the day, as well as those that occur at opening or closing times. Chris Tierny from Chris’ Pizza Americana in Nagasaki, Japan, says he prevents contamination with constant cleaning. “We keep bleach and towels at each prep area and have signs up to remind the staff to wash their hands frequently,” says Tierny. 

Along with clean hands, dishes must be thoroughly cleaned after each use for the safety of your customers. One important element of a clean kitchen is a dishwasher. While they may be daunting because of their large price tags, go ahead and spend the money on a quality model; if the machine will consistently produce clean and sanitized dishes, it’s worth the cost by preventing the risk of contamination. Consumer Reports magazine notes that using enzyme-based detergents and rinse aids together tend to yield cleaner results. Rinse aids reduce spotting, while enzyme-based detergents help dissolve food starches and proteins. In addition, some detergents clean reasonably well without phosphates that can harm the environment. 

Chris Hall from Big Red’s Pizza and Subs (www.bigredspizza.com) in Utica, Ohio, says his better-safe-than-sorry methods of cleaning dishes leave no risk of cross-contamination. “We have an American Dish Service Unit that will wash, rinse and sanitize,” says Hall. “Also, for good measure, we use our three bay sinks to wash and rinse all items before they go into the washer.” 

It’s imperative that your counters stay clean. Iowa State University’s www.foodsafetyanswers.org indicates that the best way to clean kitchen counters is with bleach and commercial kitchen cleaning agents. Clean dishes and counters will ensure that no cross-contamination occurs. 

Using a labeling system (combined with proper storage and portioning) can save you time and also prevent the risk of contamination. Hall says his restaurant uses a tagging system on the prep lines, where everything is grouped separately into meats and veggies. “The portion cups we use are color-coded and change color throughout the bins: red, then blue, then red, then blue, etc. Our inspectors love this; they can tell very quickly if one is not in place or has ‘crossed’ to other pans,” he says. Using this system helps Hall and his employees keep track of food and know when it’s no longer fresh.

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It

California’s Los Angeles County has a system in which inspectors give restaurants letter grades for their health inspections. If a restaurant scores 90 or above, the establishment receives an A, 89 to 80, a B, and so on, on a 10-point scale. Owners are told to post their grade in a place where the public can clearly view it. Even if your local health laws aren’t this regimented, you should still strive for an A in health and safety. 

In Japan, Tierney says he posts his inspection papers right behind the pizza grill, located at the center of the store. Showing off a good report can benefit your restaurant, says Phillip Leslie, a Stanford University economist who studied the effects of the Los Angeles letter-grade system. He found restaurants that received an A had a revenue increase of 6%; a letter B grade raised business from 1% to 2%, and a C actually caused revenues to drop. “People love these grade cards in Los Angeles and, clearly, restaurants can also benefit as well,” Leslie says. 

Having sound safety measures in place not only benefits you and your employees, but your customers as well. Showing off to your customers the measures you have taken to protect them and your employees inspires them to return, proving that being safe helps you win every time.

Katie Essner is a PMQ editorial intern.