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Restaurant Operation Series: ServSafe Food Handler

Updated on May 22, 2013

The ServSafe Food Handler.

This article’s value in this series is much less exciting and creative then some of the others about the restaurant business will be; there is only one way to be a ServSafe quality food handler. This information is directly mandated from the ServSafe Food Protection program, and much of it comes directly from one of their study hand-outs. With that said, all restaurant industry folk are welcome and suggested to use this to reference how to be a safe food handler, but remember, I did not come up with this stuff!

Who are the people that handle the food that will be served at your establishment?

If your restaurant is anything like mine, your list will most likely include:

-Prep Cooks

-Line Cooks



-Hosts (packing take-out)

The people I just named off are at some point or another going to have contact with the food you are serving to your patrons. It is vital for each and every person who is hired at one of those positions to understand the part they play in the everyday upkeep of food handling practices that meet ServSafe standards.

Why is safe food handler so important? Well, as the FDA says:

“Foodborne Illness Is Serious Business. Foodborne illness can strike anyone. However, some people are at a higher risk for developing foodborne illness. These include pregnant women, young children, older adults and people with weakened immune systems. If you — or someone you care for — are in one of these at-risk groups, it’s important to pay extra attention to handling food safely.”

As a restaurant manager, your job is to assume that a significant percent of your daily business falls into the category of highly-susceptible to food-borne illness. It is therefore imperative as a food service manager to make sure that any and all of your employees are familiarized with safe food handling procedures; in particular all employees in your establishment should be well versed in, and actively practicing, the proper hand-washing method.

Proper Hand-Washing Method

1. Wet your Hands and Arms

-The water is supposed to reach 100 degrees, but use as hot of water as you can comfortably withstand.

2. Apply Soap

-Use a generous amount, not excessive (restaurant expense costs), but enough to build up a thick lather.

3. Scrub hands and arms vigorously

-This should be done for 25-30 seconds. Attention paid to underneath your fingernails and in between your fingers.

4. Rinse thoroughly

-Rinse off the excess soap and lather under running water.

5. Dry hands and arms.

-DO NOT USE A TOWEL OR ANY PART OF YOUR UNIFORM IN DRYING YOUR NEWLY CLEANED, BACTERIA FREE HANDS! Dry your hands and arms using a single use paper towel or an hand drying air blower.

These are 5 simple and easy steps that should be included as material to go over in your first employee orientations, and re-touched upon within each training program you have within your restaurant.

When are some vital times to wash your hands?


-After clearing off or bussing dirty tables

-After handling money

-Before putting on your gloves for any sort of food preparation!

-After eating, drinking, coughing, sneezing, touching your mouth/face, etc.

-After a smoke break

-After handling any sort of cleaning material

-Habitually!!! If there is a spare moment in the day in between tasks, be preemptive and pro-active in fighting food contamination and wash your hands!!

Cooks Corner: Gloves and Personal Hygiene

Notice how earlier I mentioned that hand washing is vital before putting on your gloves for any food preparation? That is because, I should mention, that gloves are not in any way a substitution for hand washing, and in no way replace the action. Personal hygiene can be an uncomfortable topic for an employer to discuss with an employee at any level simply because of the nature of the subject. It is a necessary discussion to have with every cook who will be directly preparing the food you are serving to your guests (the people that pay the bills). To avoid making any of these conversations feel personal, simply adjust your Back of House orientation program to be strict and vigilant about conveying the imperative portion personal hygiene plays in the job description of all of your BOH hires. I am a people kind of boss, so I do understand that people are humans, we forget things and have off days, etc. However, I will put the quote here that I can hide behind in my own work place as something I reference when asking cooks to remove their jewelry, etc. The following comes directly from a SERVSAFE study manual:

“All employees must bath or shower before work and keep their hair clean. Prior to handling food, employees must put on clean clothing, appropriate shoes and a clean hair restraint or hat. They must also remove jewelry from hands and arms. Only a plain wedding band should be allowed. Aprons should always be removed when the employee leaves food-preparation areas. Eating, drinking, smoking, and gum chewing should not be allowed when preparing, serving or working in food-prep areas.”

Last but not least!

All open wounds must be bandaged and covered by either a finer cot, or glove, or bandaged and then taped up!

In conclusion:

A no-nonsense approach to food safety sets a tone for a certain kind of expectation through-out the restaurant. This will help you out over and over again through great health inspection scores and safe food service!


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