food-safety | 11 mins read

Refrigerated Food Temperatures- A Ready Reckoner For Restaurants

refrigerated food temperatures a ready reckoner for restaurants 1661283747 2228
Debdutta Bhattacharjee

By Debdutta Bhattacharjee

What are the Ground Rules of Food Safety?

Is the food you are eating at home or at a restaurant safe? Are you sure you are not unwittingly ingesting deadly bacteria with your food? Have you double-checked that your meal does not carry impurities like human hair, bird feathers, pest droppings, pieces of metal, detergents, insecticides, and so on? Have you checked the product label to ensure that the food doesn't contain a substance you are allergic to?

Being fastidious about food safety is a virtue, especially when you consider a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that says nearly 50 million people in the United States suffer from domestically-contracted foodborne diseases. This means, of every six people in the US, one gets hit by a foodborne illness. The report adds that around 130,000 people end up in hospital, and over 3,000 die because of foodborne illnesses every year.

More than 30 common pathogens and a number of unspecified agents are found to be behind this massive disease caseload.

There are, thankfully, several steps restaurants can adopt for food safety.

  • Only use fresh ingredients.
  • Hands, countertops, and kitchen equipment should be washed and sanitized frequently.
  • Those preparing and handling food should wash their hands with hot, soapy water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
  • Thoroughly rinse fruits and vegetables prior to consumption. Meat poultry, eggs, and fish, however, must not be washed.
  • See to it that water doesn't splash out of the sink during the washing as that may cause bacteria to spread.
  • The lids of canned items must be cleaned before opening them.
  • Keep raw meat, fish, seafood, poultry, and eggs away from cooked and ready-to-eat food items as bacteria can spread easily from raw food, causing food poisoning.
  • Use separate cutting boards and knives for raw and cooked food.
  • Bring marinades used on raw food to a boil before reusing them.
  • Most importantly, food needs to be cooked to its recommended minimum internal temperature.

For instance, beef, veal, pork, lamb, and finfish are to be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Egg dishes and ground meat, on the other hand, are to be cooked to 160 F. In the absence of specified internal temperatures, base cooking temperature and time on the physical appearance of the food. Eggs, for example, are to be cooked till the yolk and white firm up, and shrimp is to be cooked till the flesh becomes opaque and pearly.

Food handlers should also be mindful of hot holding, refrigeration, and freezing temperatures. One should also diligently follow safety norms for reheating and thawing food.

Why do Food Temperatures Matter?

By carefully controlling food temperature, harmful pathogens in food can be eliminated. When temperatures are low, bacteria and other germs that cause disease grow at a slower pace. Their rate of multiplication shoots up at middle-level temperatures and then falls as temperatures rise.

According to the USDA, temperatures falling between 40 F and 140 F are particularly hazardous for food. In this temperature danger zone, bacteria doubles every 20 minutes. The National Restaurant Association's food safety training agency ServSafe, on the other hand, identifies the temperature range of 41-135 F as the danger zone for food.

Within this broad range, temperatures falling between 70-125 F must be avoided at all costs, as it is here that pathogen activity peaks. Moreover, food shouldn't be held at room temperature for too long. The temperature range of 68-72 F is termed room temperature.

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Ideal Refrigeration Temperatures

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Storage temperatures of food are as important as Cooking Temperatures. Foods the refrigerator stores will preserve well at 40 F or lower. However, precise temperatures for food storage in the refrigerator may differ. Usually, refrigeration temperatures between 32-40 F are good enough for most foods.

Refrigerate dairy items and farm produce at 36-39 F. However, products like potatoes and bananas need to be stored at higher temperatures. The ideal temperature at which bananas need to be stored ranges between 50 F and 59 F.

Storehouse temperatures of 50-59 F tend to ripen fruit rapidly. The pace at which fruits ripen can be substantially slowed down by refrigeration. Avoid storing soft fruit for a long time.

Carcass meats require food storage temperatures ranging between 34 F and 37 F. Individual slices of meat such as steaks and chops, and ground meat need to be maintained in the refrigerator at 36-39 F, covered in plastic or on stainless steel trays.

As far as poultry items are concerned, place them in the refrigerator after packing them in ice. Seafood may be refrigerated at 30-34 F.

Refrigerated food can stay fresh for three to five days (beef, lamb, veal, and pork), or up to a few weeks (raw shell-on eggs). Canned and unopened ham can be kept refrigerated for six to nine months. The shelf-life of foods can be increased substantially by freezing. Frozen food can stay safe for at least a month, and sometimes up to a year and a half (crayfish and squid).

Frozen food must be stored at a temperature of 0 F or lower. Freezing is known to inhibit bacterial growth.

For cold display, food needs to be maintained at temperatures below the danger zone. An important point to remember here is that if the cold food temperature exceeds 70 F, food would no longer be fit for consumption.

How to Make Sure Your Cold Storage Units are Working Well

Food can be stored safely for a substantially long time if kept in cold storage. However, it's imperative for cold storage units to consistently work well. Here are steps you could take to ensure this-

1. The temperature of cold storage units should be monitored closely, accurately, and consistently. This will help you maintain the safety of your products and prevent spoilage and loss. To make sure that there are no significant fluctuations in temperature that could affect the inventory, readings need to be taken from different spots in each storeroom.

2. Follow the first in, first out (FIFO) method to monitor the movement of products. The longer a product sits on the shelves unsold, the greater the possibility of spoilage. The expiry dates of products and the dates of their receipts are to be tracked closely so that older stocks can be rolled out first, to be either sold or disposed of.

3. Ensure that the shipments you receive are not torn or damaged. Verify that they were maintained at their required temperatures throughout their transit. Perishable and temperature-sensitive products, particularly, can quickly go bad with improper handling. If rot has set in, the affected products must be separated so that they don't spoil fresher supplies.

4. Evaporator coils play a big part in ensuring that cold storage units work efficiently. They soak up heat by circulating a refrigerant material through a metallic jacket, thereby helping in cooling the air. Take good care of your evaporator coils. Check them regularly and don't allow any buildup of dust, dirt, or ice on them.

5. Keep the doors of the cold storage facility sealed. In case a seal is leaky, the cooling systems will have to work much harder to maintain proper cold temperatures. These will put a lot of stress on your cooling systems and inflate your energy bill. Cracks and damage to doors/seals should be repaired without delay.

6. Your condenser unit helps in cooling the air, thereby contributing to the efficiency of your cold storage facility. To ensure that this equipment works efficiently, it needs to be regularly cleaned.

What to Look for in a Refrigerator Thermometer

Restaurant Employees should closely and regularly monitor the temperatures of the restaurant's refrigerator and freezer. The most cost-effective and accurate way of doing this is with the help of refrigerator thermometers. Considering the fact that few fridge controls display true temperatures, an appliance thermometer comes in handy to check the temperatures of both, the freezer and the refrigerator and make the necessary adjustments.

To check the refrigerator temperature, the thermometer has to be placed in a glass of water, which in turn has to be stationed in the middle of the refrigerator. After that, wait and watch for five to eight hours. If the thermometer's reading isn't within the 38-40 F range, the refrigerator's temperature control must be adjusted. Re-check after five to eight hours to ensure that it's working properly.

The freezer temperature, on the other hand, can be checked by placing the appliance thermometer between packets of frozen food. Having done so, wait and watch for five to eight hours. If the temperature doesn't stay within the 0-2 F range, the temperature control has to be fine-tuned.

Here are the characteristics of a good refrigerator thermometer-

1. Since standalone thermometers have a tendency to tip over, making the job of taking temperature difficult, select thermometers that come with magnets, hooks, or clips. Varieties that offer multiple options for attachment are extremely versatile.

2. Refrigerator thermometers offer both digital and analog displays. Your ideal thermometer should be one that gives you a large digital display. This makes it easy to read displayed temperatures. There are thermometers that are backlit and come with LED displays. Anti-fog screens are handy additions too. These are very easy to read.

3. Select thermometers that are waterproof, for there's moisture inside the refrigerator and freezer. A waterproof feature adds to the thermometer's longevity.

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Refrigeration Tips

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For optimal cooling, keep foods in containers made of stainless steel, at a depth of two inches at the most.

Keep food in the refrigerator properly arranged and covered. Use plastic containers to store food, and keep the lids tightly covered to minimize the circulation of moisture. When food items are arranged well, they can be retrieved easily, which in turn does away with the need to keep the refrigerator door open long. The refrigerator should also not be overcrowded, to let air move freely.

A common problem in refrigeration is freezer burn. It results from the loss of moisture and can affect foods frozen for extended periods of time. Typically, food suffering from freezer burn appears discolored, shriveled, enveloped in ice crystals, and develops an unpleasant flavor and texture (though it may still be safe for consumption).

Freezer burn can be prevented by wrapping and packaging food items in such a way that their exposure to oxygen is minimized. Ensure that the freezer remains sufficiently cold. Also, use up foods within a reasonable timeframe.

When freezing leftover food, make use of small containers to do away with empty spaces. As far as possible, make sure air is removed from the packaging of frozen vegetables and fruits.

Avoid keeping food, cooked or uncooked, out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. In fact, food should never be allowed to sit at room temperature for over two hours, and if the ambient temperature of the area where the food is kept rises above 90 F, place the food inside the refrigerator within an hour.

Two hours is the maximum time within which leftovers need to be refrigerated, and cooked leftover meals must be consumed within a maximum period of four days.

Refrigeration is affected by power cuts. But if the refrigerator door is kept constantly shut, food can be refrigerated safely for a period of four hours and stored in a full freezer for two days, and a half-full freezer for a day.

In case of an extended power outage, keep the refrigerator cold with dry ice. If the outage lasts over four hours, store food in coolers. Try to keep food items grouped together in the freezer so that they remain cold for longer periods of time.

Thawing Tips

Avoid thawing frozen food items at room temperature or in warm water. This is an open invitation to disease-causing microorganisms and could lead to Food Loss due to spoilage.

Your best bet is to thaw food in the refrigerator itself. For instance, frozen meat, poultry, or seafood can be thawed in the refrigerator overnight and then cooked the following day. Cooked food stored in the freezer can also be thawed in the refrigerator. Food is thawed in the fridge at temperatures of 40-41 F or lower, which prevents the growth of pathogens by keeping the food out of the temperature danger zone.

Food can also be thawed in the microwave oven. However, food items that cook in a flash, like shrimp, must not be microwave-thawed because the radiation may cause the raw shrimp to cook inside out, making it rubbery and unappetizing.

Raw food items can also be thawed in cold water. Raw and frozen meat and seafood, for instance, can be put in a sealed plastic bag and dipped in cold water for thawing. However, avoid thawing under running water, especially when it comes to delicate items like shrimp that would disintegrate and wash away with the water.

You should also be careful not to refreeze raw proteins like seafood, meat, and poultry, or ice cream, juice concentrates, casseroles, pot pies, and pasta.

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