Food Preparation | 14 mins read

Food Preparation Basics for Growing Restaurants

food preparation basics for growing restaurants
Dakota Sheetz

By Dakota Sheetz

When your restaurant is growing, understanding the basics of food preparation becomes even more important. Here's what you need to know.

What Is Food Preparation?

Food preparation is the actions that are performed to prepare food to either ensure that the food we consume is safe to eat or to enhance the flavor. For the purpose of this article, we're narrowing our definition of food preparation to ensuring that the food prepared by a growing restaurant is safe to eat.

As it relates to ensuring that food is safe for consumption, food preparation can be broken down into four categories- cleaning, separation of ingredients, ensuring that foods are cooked to the right temperature, and proper storage of prepared foods.

The steps required for cleaning food depends largely on the type of food being prepared, but the importance of doing so is to remove dirt, bacteria, pesticides, and other potentially harmful materials that could make your patrons, and even your staff, sick.

Additionally, food that isn't cleaned properly could leave dirt and bacteria on surfaces. When other foods are placed on these surfaces, cross-contamination could occur. However, cleaning doesn't just relate to your staff properly preparing the ingredients to be used. It also includes washing their hands, utensils, and surfaces properly and on a regular basis.

Ingredients should be properly separated to avoid cross-contamination. For example, your staff should not use the same cutting board for poultry that is used for vegetables. Utensils, containers, and platters used for raw ingredients should not be used with cooked ingredients. Certain ingredients should also be stored separately as well.

One of the most integral components of food preparation is ensuring that your staff understands the importance of cooking certain foods to the right internal temperature. Doing so will help protect your diners from food poisoning since the bacteria cannot survive at those temperatures. Additionally, the foods must be kept in a heated area until it is time to serve food or reheated thoroughly.

The fourth piece of the food preparation puzzle is the proper storage of prepared foods. That is, how to refrigerate and freeze leftover food. According to foodsafety.gov, the bacteria responsible for causing most cases of food poisoning can reproduce the fastest between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F.

The best way to combat this is to use an appliance thermometer and know that your refrigerators are set below 40 degrees F and that your freezers are set at 0 degrees or below. Although freezing won't destroy the bacteria, it does stabilize it until the food can be heated to a temperature that can destroy it.

Why Is Food Preparation Important?

For growing restaurants, food preparation is important for several reasons-

  • Food poisoning- Teaching your staff to adhere to proper food preparation helps reduce the likelihood that your diners will suffer from food poisoning. Many times, food poisoning occurs because certain foods aren't stored at the proper temperature. Remember from the last section that the bacteria that cause food poisoning reproduces the fastest between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F. Food not stored or at the right temperature or food not cooked to the proper temperature can cause food poisoning.
  • Food allergies- You may have diners with food allergies. Proper separation of foods during the preparation process is one way that your establishment can help diners choose your restaurant with confidence. By training your staff to always use separate cutting boards, utensils, bowls, platters, etc., you may very well save a life or, at the very least, save a diner from a very uncomfortable experience!
  • Higher food quality- Better food quality means a better reputation for your restaurant. Proper food preparation is an easy way for your restaurant to ensure that it's serving higher quality dishes.
  • Fewer issues with the state- As a licensed establishment, you're required to undergo certain inspections. Your staff is required to know and follow certain food preparation techniques. By following the required practices, you'll have fewer issues with the state and save yourself a lot of trouble (and a lot of money).

Do's and Don't of Food Preparation

As the owner of a growing restaurant, you may not know all of the rules related to food preparation. Generally, that's something you expect your general manager, chefs, and other qualified employees to know. Yet, it's still important for you to understand some of the do's and don'ts of food preparation. Here are eight tips you should know-

  1. Do not rinse meat before cooking- The bacteria that commonly cause food poisoning cannot be rinsed away. It is cooked away. Pork, chicken, and beef all have different internal temperatures to which they should be cooked. And if the meat is rinsed, it is likely that the water may splash out of the sink onto nearby surfaces and utensils and cause cross-contamination.
  2. Do not soak the meat in salt water- Saltwater does not remove bacteria. While soaking the meat in saltwater won't necessarily hurt anything from a food safety standpoint, it doesn't help anything, either. If you choose to do this, the meat and the saltwater should be kept in the refrigerator at the proper temperature to limit bacterial growth.
  3. Do wash your hands right away after handling raw meat- This includes poultry, pork, and beef as well as its packaging. Anything touched after handling any type of raw meat will be contaminated. Hands should be washed using warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Do wash all surfaces immediately with hot, soapy water to prevent cross-contamination after preparing raw meat or after meat or poultry packaging contact- This helps prevent cross-contamination with other foods, surfaces, and utensils. Surfaces and utensils should also be sanitized on a regular basis.
  5. Do throw away packages from raw meat right away- This includes packages for beef, poultry, and pork regardless of what they're made from. They should never be reused (including the plastic covering). Egg cartons should also be thrown away immediately. This helps reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
  6. Do not use the same utensils for cooked foods for raw foods- Raw foods should have dedicated utensil and cooked foods should have a dedicated utensil. This helps limit cross-contamination. (Are you noticing a theme?) Raw foods and cooked foods should not be stored together, either. They should be kept on separate plates or in separate bowls.
  7. Do not rinse eggs- When commercial eggs are prepared for shipment, they are washed. It's required by federal law. If a shell has even a small crack in it, you may not notice it. If you rinse it, splashback may occur onto nearby surfaces and utensils. This can then cause the egg residue to make it onto surfaces and utensils and causing, you guessed it, cross-contamination.
  8. Do make sure that all produce is rinsed with water before it is prepared- All fruits and vegetables should be rinsed with water before being prepared. There is no need to use any sort of soap or detergent. Water is all that is needed to remove dirt, pesticide, and to reduce the amount of bacteria present. Soap and detergents are not safe for consumption. When preparing the produce, bruised areas should be removed. Once cut, produce should be refrigerated for quality as well as for food safety.

How to Properly Prepare Eggs

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Eggs are one of the most common ways that diners contract salmonella. Salmonella is one of the scariest food poisons around because while many people do get well within a week, others end up in the hospital for treatment; some could even die if they aren't treated.

Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals who have certain chronic illnesses have a higher risk of developing salmonella. The good news is that understanding how to properly prepare eggs can help prevent this awful food poisoning from happening to your diners.

Only buy eggs that have been refrigerated, that shipped to you in a refrigerated truck, or that you find in a refrigerated case. While there are some eggs that are treated in a special way to make them resistant to salmonella, most eggs require refrigeration. Most egg cartons will state that the eggs need to be refrigerated.

This means that they are not treated to be resistant to salmonella. Keep your eggs in a refrigerator that is at least 40 degrees F. Use an appliance thermometer to ensure that your refrigerator is properly cooling. Your eggs should be used within three weeks of purchase for quality reasons.

For any recipes that require raw or undercooked eggs, look for eggs that have been treated to destroy salmonella. For casserole dishes and other dishes that require eggs and will be cooked, the minimum temperature is 160 degrees F. A food thermometer is an essential tool to ensure that the food is safe to serve. For stand-alone egg dishes, such as scrambled eggs, the egg should not be runny.

For quality and safety, it's important to properly store your eggs. Hardboiled eggs, whether they remain in their shell or peeled, should be used within a week of cooking. Eggs should never be frozen in their shells. If your restaurant plans to freeze eggs, the eggs should be beaten together whole or egg whites can be frozen separately.

For dishes including eggs, they can be refrigerated safely for no more than four days. If the dish is large, it should be divided into smaller portions before refrigerating so that it can cool faster.

After preparing the egg dish, kitchen staff should wash their hands, all utensils, equipment, and work surfaces with hot, soapy water.

How to Properly Prepare Pork

Pork is gaining in popularity, especially after some changing best practices related to its preparation. However, there are still concerns related to its food preparation to limit the potential of it making your diners sick.

Undercooked pork can still cause a very painful form of food poisoning known as trichinosis. The best way to prevent it is to ensure that all dishes that include pork are properly cooked. Undercooked pork can also lead to listeria and salmonella.

To measure the temperature of pork, use a digital meat thermometer. The safe internal temperature is a minimum of 145 degrees F for pork chops, pork roasts, pork loin, and pork tenderloin. Organ meats, ground pork, and mixtures containing ground pork should be cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees F.

For proper temperature measurement, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, but avoid the bone. Then, to ensure that no cross-contamination occurs when you reuse the digital thermometer later either on the same dish or another pork dish, thoroughly clean the thermometer, without immersing it fully, with hot, soapy water.

As with other raw meats, the surface, cutting board, and utensils should be cleaned with hot, soapy water before they are reused. Uncooked pork and cooked pork should never come into contact. Uncooked pork and other food should also never come into contact.

How to Properly Prepare Beef

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Although you'll find that many diners enjoy rare and medium-rare beef dishes, there are risks associated with undercooked beef. You'll need to check the guidelines in your state to determine how best to handle requests from customers. From a food preparation standpoint, properly preparing beef helps prevent cross-contamination to stop food poisoning.

If beef products are shipped to your restaurant frozen, they should be thawed in a refrigerator. They should never be thawed out at room temperature. It should be stored separately from other ingredients, such as produce. Use separate cutting boards and utensils to prepare the beef to be cooked.

All utensils, surfaces, and cutting boards should be washed in hot soapy water. Cutting boards should be sanitized on a routine basis to ensure that bacteria hasn't made its way into porous material.

Internal temperature for beef depends on the diner's preference. Rare temperature is 125 degrees F; medium-rare is 130 to 135 degrees F; medium is 135 to 140 degrees F; medium well is 140 to 150 degrees F, and well done is 155+ degrees F.

Much like with pork, the best way to determine the proper internal temperature is to make use of a digital meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and not touching the bone. And, of course, wash the digital thermometer without immersing it in hot soapy water before using it again to help prevent cross-contamination.

How to Properly Prepare Poultry

Proper preparation of poultry is incredibly important. Raw poultry packaging is known for its leakage. It can easily contaminate work surfaces, cutting boards, and utensils. Raw poultry also spoils quickly if it isn't properly stored.

Like beef, poultry should never be thawed at room temperature. It should only be thawed in the refrigerator and in a container where any liquid can be contained. The average time for thawing is five hours per pound.

Once the poultry has thawed, it should be carefully and thoroughly rinsed inside and out. Be mindful of any water that could splash off of the poultry or out of the sink during the rinsing process. The splashback causes cross-contamination. The poultry should be dried with paper towels.

After the towels are disposed of in the trash, your staff should wash their hands with hot, soapy waters. Any surfaces, containers, or utensils used should be washed as well.

All poultry should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F. The juices should run clear when pierced. Using a digital meat thermometer, check the temperature by inserting the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, but do not touch the bone. After using the thermometer, make sure that it is cleaned with hot soapy water without fully immersing it.

How to Properly Prepare Produce

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Perishable produce should be kept in a refrigerator at 40 degrees or below. As with all perishable foods, use an appliance thermometer to determine if your refrigerator is properly cooling. Any produce that is purchased for your restaurant that is already pre-cut belongs in the refrigerator unless it is canned. All fruits and vegetables that are to be served raw should be kept separate from raw meat (including both seafood and poultry).

Produced should be washed with cold water for at least 20 seconds. Remember that soap and detergents aren't necessary and are not safe for consumption. Rinse off any dirt that you see. For pre-bagged produced, it may be marked as pre-washed or ready-to-eat. However, it is important that it does not come into contact with any surfaces that were used to prepare any other foods such as raw meat. This includes cutting boards.

Any cutting boards, utensils, or surfaces that will be used to prepare produce should be clean and sterile. Do not ever prepare produce on surfaces where raw meat of any kind was prepared. This results in cross-contamination.

How to Organize Your Food Preparation Station

Having a well-organized food preparation station is one of the best ways that your restaurant staff can better ensure that best food preparation practices are followed. It also makes the kitchen operations more efficient. Ensure that the prep stations are designed for speed. Every food prep station should have a cutting board. There should also be knives as well as a nearby sink for easy clean up and sterilization.

Additionally, each food prep station should also have a decent size scrap bin that can be used to scrape the scraps from the cutting board into. A trash can at each station is also important.

It's also a good idea to set up food preparation stations for different types of food. For example, a poultry station should have a plastic cutting board, a metal sheet to catch any poultry drippings, plastic gloves, paper towels, and a scrap container.

For produce, there should be an area for cleaning the produce, a cutting board, a scrap bin, knives, vegetable peelers, and an easily accessible area for cleaning the produce. The produce area and the area for handling raw meat should be kept separate to prevent cross contamination.