When designing a restaurant kitchen, it’s nice to have an attractive environment, but it’s far more important that the space is safe for employees and guests. Don’t choose a gorgeous kitchen design at the expense of safety and efficiency.
In fact, many people design restaurant kitchens without thinking about food safety. I recently visited a facility that was nearly finished before anyone realized that a three-bay sink—critical to proper sanitation of dishes and equipment—hadn’t been installed. The critical piece of equipment was overlooked in the design plan, and no one caught the mistake during the planning or construction process. Since the facility had limited space, there was no “easy fix” such as moving a wall to expand the kitchen.
To meet proper food safety codes, the sink had to be installed somewhere. The builders ended up placing the sink right beside a floor mixer, with the wash sink inches away from the dough mixer. This was not an ideal solution, since there was a high probability that dirty dishwater from the wash sink would splash into the mixer, contaminating the food. The restaurant team had to agree not to wash dishes while utilizing the mixer, which was inefficient and problematic in their daily activities. The designer/architect should have reviewed the plan and consulted a food safety expert before beginning construction. By doing so, they would have potentially eliminated this major problem, which was a tremendous headache during construction and will be an ongoing disruption to service and work flow (not to mention a major safety hazard!) over the long-term.
Food service professionals work long, busy days in the kitchen. It’s a fast-paced, hectic environment, so think through flow of the space—as well as the materials, equipment, etc.—during the design process.
When planning, designing and building a restaurant kitchen:
- Plan the flow. The flow of your prep area should make sense for efficiency, as well as food safety. For instance, when your servers take food to your guests, they should never have to walk through the dirty dish area, which increases the cross-contamination risk.
- Ensure that your hot water tanks are sufficient. Tanks must hold enough hot water to get you through your busiest rush period of washing and sanitizing dishes. If they don’t, get a booster or a larger hot water tank.
- Purchase equipment that’s easy to clean, with minimal nooks and crannies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contaminated utensils and equipment are a top risk factor for foodborne illness outbreaks. If equipment is difficult to clean, it’s more likely not to be washed properly (if at all). Note that some brands are harder to clean than others. For instance, some ice cream machines literally have hundreds of pieces that need to be washed, rinsed and sanitized regularly.
- Choose the right materials. Select materials that are smooth, durable and easy to clean. Stainless steel is an ideal choice for equipment, backsplashes and food contact surfaces.
- Consider even the smallest details. For example, like the amount of tile grout you use. The less tile grout, the less risk for chipping. Chipping, cracks or holes in walls and floors lead to bacteria growth. Use non-porous materials that are easy to clean and don’t allow bacteria to grow.
- Install good lighting. A well-lit kitchen is imperative for food safety, so that labels can be read, physical hazards can be seen, dirt and grime can be immediately addressed, and poor coloring or quality of the food can be spotted.
- Install floor drains. Ensure that your floors have drains so they can be deep cleaned regularly.
- Seal gaps. It is impossible for anyone to clean a quarter-inch gap between a wall and a counter space that the contractor neglected to close. This will eventually become an insect or rodent haven, which is obviously a food safety hazard. Make sure all gaps are properly sealed to eliminate those risks.
- Consider the placement of your sinks. Kitchen sinks must never be in an area where there’s potential for contaminated water to splash on consumables, clean dishes or anything else it could contaminate. (Note the example above where dirty dishwater from a dish sink could easily splash into a floor mixer.) In tight areas, a barrier may need to be installed between the sink and a prep area or equipment.
- Install multiple sinks. Identify which sinks are for washing dishes, produce, hands, etc. This will help minimize dangerous cross-contamination.
- Designate allergen-free areas and equipment. Make certain to have a specific prep area and cooking equipment to safely accommodate your guests with food allergies and intolerances. Specify one allergy-friendly fryer that isn’t used for any common allergens, including breaded products, fish or shellfish, or foods containing nuts. A separate filtering system should be used for this fryer as well, to avoid any cross-contamination/cross-contact issues.
- Build a personal storage area. Create an employee area with lockers to store personal belongings (e.g., purses, backpacks) so these items are not stored with food or on food contact surfaces.
The seemingly “minor” details in a restaurant kitchen (grout, moldings, etc.) are truly a big deal in terms of keeping guests safer. And bigger issues—such as placement of a three-compartment sink—must be carefully considered at the start of a design project.
While it’s critical, of course, to have a competent design and construction team for your project, don’t overlook the importance of having a food safety expert consult on the project, from concept to implementation. Food safety experts bring a valuable perspective to the table and can advise on all matters from big (how kitchen design impacts food safety and reduces foodborne illness risks) to small (the easiest gaskets to clean and keep sanitary.) By working collaboratively, your design, construction and food safety expert can maximize your future successes and minimize food safety risks.
Having an attractive restaurant kitchen is nice, but having a safe kitchen is imperative. This literally starts from the ground up with kitchen design.