Restaurants: How to Store Food and Avoid the Danger Zone

Cold food storage should be a top priority for commercial food service operations, especially when customer health is at risk. The USDA FSIS lists two types of bacteria, spoilage and pathogenic, as responsible for a loss of food quality and as a source of foodborne illness. The latter, pathogenic, can grow rapidly when food is stored between 40 and 140 degrees (the “danger zone”) and is virtually undetectable as customers eat. In addition to customer health, restaurants and food service operations also need to be concerned about regular food inspections and low-quality ingredients and dishes.

Food Storage Guidelines

A safe food temperature chart contains exact temperatures for every type of food. In addition to this information, there are also general guidelines that should be followed:

  • Food should reach safe temperatures within 2 hours.
  • Cold foods should be kept below 40 degrees. Hot foods should be kept above 140 degrees.
  • Food should not be held in temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees for more than two hours.
  • Food should not be kept in temperatures between 90 and 140 degrees for more than an hour.
  • Bacteria grows rapidly when food is kept in the danger zone, and more rapidly when food is kept above 70 degrees.

There are several cooling best-use practices that restaurants and food service operations can use to adhere to these guidelines:

  • All food storage containers should be thoroughly cleaned.commercial food service refrigerator
  • Every staff member should be familiar with proper food storage and the schedule for monitoring food temperature. (Use properly-posted signs to remind staff.)
  • To avoid rapid bacteria growth and the danger zone, food temperature should be regularly checked and temperatures recorded (every 2 hours to correct issues, but not more than 4 hours).
  • Many commercial cooling products have built-in temperature monitoring; use a different thermometer to ensure the temperatures are accurate.
  • When stored in a commercial refrigerator, food should be labeled (with a date) and rotated to ensure proper food safety.
  • Items placed first in cold storage should be used first.
  • During storage, all items should be stored in tightly-sealed containers.
  • Refrigerator and freezer shelves should be open (not lined).
  • Discard foods that are not stored properly.
  • Meat should be stored at the bottom of the refrigerator to avoid any issues with meat juices.

Food Service Refrigerator and Freezer Guidelines

At the heart of every restaurant’s efforts to store food safely is commercial cooling equipment. Therefore, commercial refrigeration equipment should be chosen carefully (an experienced commercial equipment professional can assist with this process).

In general, commercial refrigerators should be selected based on the following criteria:

  • Equipment is designed for the intended use, such as a cooled display case
  • Size of the commercial refrigerator or freezer (so it fits within the space footprint)
  • Capacity of the unit to ensure enough room for items and proper cooling
  • Condensor position to avoid clogging, compromised cooling, and breakdowns

There are several different types of commercial refrigerators and freezers (list not inclusive):

  • Food service refrigerators and freezers
  • cooled display cases
  • cooled prep stations
  • merchandising refrigerators

Contact a commercial food equipment professional to choose the right food service refrigerator and freezer for your restaurant or food service operation. Once in operation, food service refrigerators and freezers need to be cleaned regularly to ensure food safety.

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