National dietary guidelines state that American adults should consume at least 1.5 cups of fruits and at least two cups of vegetables each day. While there are plenty of people who don't meet these guidelines, a growing emphasis on vegetarianism and veganism throughout the country means that restaurants and other eateries can no longer treat fresh produce as an after-thought. Rather than being a mere accompaniment, fruits and vegetables are often seen as the star of the show.
Not only does this force restaurant owners to become more inventive with their menus, but it also necessitates an even greater prioritization of proper handling techniques. What's more, public awareness surrounding food safety is on the rise. With frequent food recalls and reports of foodborne illness making headlines, customers want to feel confident about where their food comes from and how it arrives to their table. Sorting out your food sourcing is essential -- and so are your methods for handling and processing vegetables.
According to the CDC, approximately one in six Americans (or 48 million people) become sick every year as a result of foodborne illnesses. Roughly 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die due to these diseases. While food items like under-cooked meats and raw eggs are often responsible for causing such illnesses, fresh produce is also prone to contamination. Biological hazards are one of the main causes of foodborne illnesses, which can often be attributed to mishandling. For example, when members of the kitchen staff fail to properly clean cutting boards after handling raw meet or vegetable process accessories after each use, bacteria can grow and be transferred to any number of meals served to customers. Even the areas where food is stored (like refrigerators and countertops) can contain harmful bacteria that will be passed on and infect anyone who comes into contact with these items.
The methods used to grow and transport fresh produce can make vegetables and fruits vulnerable to contamination, in some cases. That's just one benefit of working with local farmers to supply the produce for your restaurant; not only will you obtain fresh fruits and veggies grown in your area, but you can also have the opportunity to conduct research into the techniques used by the farm and ensure that this food supply will not become contaminated. Once the produce comes into your kitchen, you'll need to continue doing your due diligence to keep foodborne illness at bay.
Before processing vegetables, working with meats, or doing virtually anything in the kitchen, staff members must thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water and dry them with a clean cloth or disposable paper towel. Hands should also be washed before and after handling different foods and after using the bathroom. Using alcohol-based hand sanitizers will not serve as a proper substitute. Cutting boards, industrial meat grinders, vegetable processors, dishes, utensils, and all other serving and prep containers must be washed prior to use in hot water and soap or in a dishwasher. Countertops should also be thoroughly washed after prepping every item. All of the above should be air dried or dried with a clean towel (either cloth or paper).
Foods should be separated to prevent cross-contamination. When shopping, storing, and preparing food items, staff members must keep raw meats, fish, and poultry from all other items. Refrigerators, coolers, and other food storage facilities must be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent contamination. Perishable foods must be chilled immediately after purchasing to slow the growth of harmful bacteria. Make sure to eliminate overcrowding so that air can circulate through the cooler or refrigerator. Always label food items properly and observe expiration dates.
Although you might not immediately worry about foodborne illnesses when you're processing vegetables, the reality is that poor compliance can cause you to unknowingly contaminate the area in which you process vegetables, meats, and other food items. But if you follow proper procedures while processing vegetables and cutting meats, you can alleviate the risk of contamination in your commercial kitchen and allow your restaurant's reputation to thrive.