With their tempting displays of hot and cold dishes, buffets can be an attractive choice for diners, and they can be very profitable for restaurant owners as well—if done right. Running a buffet has certain risks that must be managed to protect customers not only from food poisoning but the spread of germs from person to person. Appealing and tasty food may draw people in but ensuring the safety of your guests will keep them returning. You don’t want to do anything that makes your guests wonder is it safe to eat at a buffet.
Below are five tips for keeping buffet-style food safe.
1) Ensure Food Safety First
Perhaps the most important buffet food safety tip is to keep all your dishes at safe food temperatures—this means keeping hot food hot enough and cold food cold enough. This is important not only for food safety but also for the quality of the dish.
Health inspectors often check to ensure that all the food served on the buffet remains at the proper temperature for serving. If your food is not at the right temperature according to buffet food safety regulations, not only do you run the risk of making diners sick, but you could also be fined by the health inspector. This will not only be costly but could damage your reputation. Avoid expensive fines and ill customers by keeping your food at safe temperatures.
A good guideline is to regularly check the temperature of the buffet food every two hours. Follow the old adage, “when in doubt, throw it out.” Any food found to be at the wrong temperature should be thrown out right away. Thoroughly clean their containers with bleach or another food-safe disinfectant before you use them to serve new food.
2) Keep All Surfaces Sparkling Clean and Disinfected
Germs travel fast. If you, one of your employees, or customers touches infected surfaces, germs can quickly spread throughout the restaurant and to the food on your buffet.
You can easily prevent the spread of dangerous germs such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi by ensuring every surface in your restaurant is visibly clean and disinfected. Use a cleaning disinfectant appropriate for restaurants or diluted bleach to wipe down counters regularly. This should be done regularly and visibly so that your customers know you take cleanliness and buffet safety seriously.
This includes tables where diners eat, chairs, bathroom sinks, and utensils and condiment trays. Diluted bleach and restaurant-grade disinfectants can keep surfaces safe for several hours after use.
3) Install a Sneeze Guard/Food Shield
The food on your buffet may be appealing and tempting to any tastebuds. However, it may not be safe if it is not protected by a sneeze guard or food shield. Most states have regulations to install these shields over buffet serving lines.
Shields must be about 5-6 feet tall, about the height of the average diner. To ensure the safety of the general public, these shields cannot be movable by the staff of customers. Remember to have your food shields washed on each side with diluted bleach before the restaurant opens and closes for the day.
4) Install Hand Washing Stations for Customers and Employees
Your employees should wash their hands regularly during their shift. Key times for washing their hands include after busing or cleaning tables, blowing their noses, using the restroom, eating, smoking a cigarette, and coughing.
When not sure, or if they can’t remember, employees should always err on the side of caution to prevent spreading germs. Conveniently placing hand-washing stations in the kitchen, server stations, and bathrooms, as well as at the front of lines, can help prevent the contamination of food and prevent the spread of germs that can make people sick. In addition, set up hand sanitizer stations around the buffet for your customers to use.
5) Prevent Cross-Contamination Cross Contamination by Washing All Utensils
If not washed frequently, kitchen utensils can spread germs and contribute to cross-contamination. Knives, tongs, spoons, and other utensils should be washed every time they touch raw meat. They should also be washed after they come into contact with dirty surfaces such as an unwashed counter.
Likewise, utensils brought into the kitchen from the buffet should be thoroughly cleaned. Washing utensils frequently throughout the shift helps prevent them from contaminating food and causing customers to fall ill.
Don’t be afraid to make your buffet safety efforts obvious. This will go a long way in keeping your buffet safe and sanitary as well as instilling trust in your customers.