Food Safety Behind The Bar

Marshalee Valentine

Thursday, April 25, 2019

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It is not uncommon to neglect food safety responsibilities when it comes to operating a bar. But why do you think a public health inspector visits your location periodically to conduct inspections? And why is it that you are also required to have a food handler's permit prior to being employed at a bar? That's because food safety principles still apply to you! You may be wondering how rum and beer can make anyone sick. Don't forget, as mixologists, you also use fresh fruits, nuts, tree nuts, milk and milk-based beverages, ice, among other ingredients. Therefore, there are quite a few areas for potential contamination of beverages. Here are some key food safety areas to focus on while carrying out your daily (or nightly) duties.

1. Labelling and organising

I've mentioned in previous articles the importance of being able to identify the food or food ingredients being used, to prevent cross-contamination or misuse of items. Garnishes, bases, juice concentrates and other items used in drink mixes must be properly labelled with a description of the contents. When handling pre-sealed items such as wines, juices, milk and milk-based ingredients, ensure they are labelled with the date items were first opened. Amber Thornton of the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation recommends that containers not be labelled on the lids as this may cause mislabelling; I urge you to try to avoid this as cross-contamination may also occur via this medium.

Once your ingredients are properly labelled, ensure that they are stored at the correct temperatures that are monitored periodically. Additionally, storage of containers must prevent cross-contamination; this is done by ensuring raw and ready-to-eat items such as garnishes and uncut fruits are stored on upper shelves if a stacked/shared refrigerator is used. If a table-top cooler is used, make sure that items are organised in a manner that prevents potentially harmful contaminants from dripping or coming in contact with them. Always keep containers closed when not in use. Allergens such as nuts, milk and by-products of allergens must be labelled and stored in an area that does not result in cross-contamination with other ingredients.

2. Cleaning and sanitising

How many times have you blended a milk-based product, stored items in a container or chopped some nuts with a knife and then used only water to wash the equipment and utensils? Water is simply not enough to clean and sanitise to remove potential bacteria and other contaminants. Each storage container, blender, spoon, knife, cutting board, etc, once used, must be properly cleaned with a food-grade detergent and sanitised to prevent cross-contamination. Now I know that sounds like a lot to do to your blender/mixer, given the fact that you may have a customer waiting. However, if you do not have utensils and equipment assigned to handling allergens — which I highly suggest — you must take the necessary steps to ensure that cross-contamination does not occur. This may lead to an allergic reaction in a patron with allergies or even cause illness due to bacteria build-up on items.

3 Storage

Never store cleaning chemicals and other harmful substances behind the bar, especially if they are not labelled correctly. These items must be stored in a secure and well-identified location, away from food and drink products. Additionally, try to avoid storing ingredients on the floor, even if they are in containers.

4 Glassware

Try to avoid stacking glasses when carrying them; if glassware is stored upside down, ensure that they are stored on a rack to avoid condensation and mould build-up inside the glass. Some locations may choose to hang glassware from inverted racks. Now if you decide to use rags to dry and polish glassware, ensure that these are washed daily. Do not use the rags used to polish/dry glassware or flatware to clean up spills; if this is done, wash rags immediately with approved detergent and allow to dry.

5 Employee health and hygiene

It is your responsibility to ensure that you wash your hands as required and ensure you are properly groomed before handling and serving. Always use disposable gloves if utensils are not being used to pick up ingredients and ensure you dispose of these gloves once you move from your work station or if you handle an allergenic ingredient. Never attend work if you are ill; if you realise you are infected with a communicable illness on the job, report this to your supervisor immediately.

6 Ice

That old-time saying “ice caan poison nobody” is a myth. Ice is a food that can become contaminated if exposed to contaminants. Ice must be made from potable water and you must ensure that ice used for cooling beverages and other ingredients is not used as an ingredient. Ice can transfer pathogens from the storage container to other beverages; as a result, you need to take care when handling it. Storage containers and scoops must be kept clean and sanitised. Containers that were previously used to hold raw meat, seafood, poultry, or chemicals must not be used to hold or carry ice. Never use your hands to remove ice to be used in beverages, always use a scoop and ensure you hold the scoop by the handle. Do not use water glasses or any kind of glass to scoop ice, as this can result in fragments of glass being left in the ice being used.

Be diligent and report any potential sources of contamination to a supervisor, or take steps necessary once you are able to control potential sources of contamination.

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