When designing a commercial kitchen, many people consider how the space will look, when they should be primarily concerned with how it will function. The design should maximize efficiency and productivity, but it also must promote proper food safety protocols.

chef and dishwasher
No matter how much time and care a chef takes preparing a meal, no matter how beautiful it looks on the plate, one splash of one drop of dirty dish water can turn the delectable into the deadly.

Food service professionals should work closely with their designer and construction team, and it’s wise to also collaborate with a food safety expert, who can advise on how the work space layout can boost food safety practices. Many of the same considerations are appropriate for those designing and refinishing home kitchens.

Cross-contamination and cross-contact are important factors to consider. Recognize that one design flaw could have life-threatening ramifications. For instance, in restaurant settings, when servers take food to guests, they should never have to walk through the dirty dish area, which increases the contamination risk. Also give careful thought on the placement of your three-compartment sink, to be sure it’s separate from food prep areas.

Think of food safety when planning the space — such as ensuring that floor mixers aren’t placed near wash sinks where dirty water could splash in and contaminate the food. It’s also critical to plan the “smaller details” that could impact food safety — such as not leaving any gaps between counters and walls that could attract grime, insects or rodents, and being certain that you use grout that can be properly cleaned and sanitized.

When planning, designing and building a commercial kitchen:

  • Plan the flow. The flow of your prep area should make sense for efficiency, as well as food safety. This will save time, money and reduce risk.
  • Purchase equipment that’s easy to clean, with minimal nooks and crannies. This is important for all equipment that you use in your kitchen, including mixers, fryers, ice cream machines and meat slicers.
  • Consider even the smallest details — like the amount of tile grout used. The less tile grout, the less risk for chipping. Chipping — and cracks or holes in walls and floors — result in bacteria growth. Always use a non-porous grout material that doesn’t allow bacteria to grow.
  • Ensure that your floors have drains so they can be deep cleaned regularly.
  • Ensure that your hot water tanks hold a sufficient amount of hot water. If they don’t hold enough hot water to get you through your busiest rush period of washing and sanitizing dishes, you either need to get a booster or a larger hot water tank. Hot water is critical to proper washing and sanitizing dishes, equipment and hands.
  • 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. In tight areas, a barrier may need to be installed between the sink and a prep area.
  • Install multiple sinks for washing dishes, produce, poultry, hands, etc.
  • Color-coded cutting boards help ensure that fresh produce is not cross-contaminated with pathogens from raw meat. To increase compliance with such food safety policies and procedures employers must provide continuing education and training for food handlers.
    Color-coded cutting boards help ensure that fresh produce is not cross-contaminated with pathogens from raw meat, fish or poultry. To increase compliance with such food safety policies and procedures employers must provide continuing education and training for food handlers.

    Designate separate equipment and prep space for allergen-free/gluten-free cooking to safely accommodate your guests with food allergies and intolerances.

  • Designate allergy-friendly equipment, such as fryers, that are not used for any common allergens, including breaded products, fish or shellfish, or foods containing nuts.
  • Use different shaped or different colored plates to serve allergy-friendly meals.
  • Purchase or make your own allergy kits, complete with color-coded chopping boards and pans and utensils, which are kept clean, covered and stored away from flours and other potential allergens. Purple is widely used and recognized to designate allergy-friendly equipment.
  • Wash and sanitize allergy equipment and surfaces between each use.
  • Make certain areas that are impossible to reach for cleaning are sealed tightly. 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.
  • Design separate storage space for common food allergens such as flours, nuts, etc., to avoid cross-contact with other foods.

The seemingly minor details in a kitchen — such as the kind of grout used — 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 how kitchen design impacts reduces foodborne illness risks and which ice machines are easiest 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.

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