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Utensils: A Threat in the Kitchen?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014   (0 Comments)
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Oh, sure, that spoon you’re holding can’t actually kill anyone.  But handle it the wrong way, and any utensil can become a sinister double agent, capable of sabotaging your most beloved entrée!  Okay, so I’m being a little overly dramatic…  Let me explain.

For the purposes of this article, let’s define “utensils” as any tool (spoon, scoop, spatula, fork, knife, tweezers, etc.) that prevents your hand from coming into contact with food or product.

Let’s start with how we need to store our stainless steel utensils: they can never be stored in standing water, even while in use or during service.  Why?  Well, even though it isn’t burbling & bubbling like primordial ooze, that water-filled bain-marie with your spoons in it is probably hatching some nasty little bugs that you wouldn’t want served to your guests!  Standing (also known as “still”) water is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and waterborne microorganisms which can make us sick.  If you must keep your utensils in water, keep them in water that is in constant motion, such as an active dipper well (like the style used for ice cream scoops).  Don’t want to spend four grand on cutting a dipper well into your old chef table?  Make your own ad hoc dipper well: place a food grade container (like a stainless hotel pan or bain-marie) in an empty prep sink; turn on the faucet and let cold or hot water continuously agitate in the container so that any particulate matter floats off and the water overflows rapidly & continuously into the sink basin and right down the drain. (You can only do this in a prep sink, which is a single-basin sink with indirect waste, typically used for washing produce.  If you made your own dipper well in a hand sink, your colleagues can’t wash their hands! If you go back to dish-wash and use a three compartment sink, you defeat the purpose by being near soiled or un-sanitized flatware). 

What about using disposable plastic utensils (like spoons, forks, or knives) in your kitchen?  That is illegal and ill-advised!  Plastic utensils (like the kind you get at a fast-food place with a to-go order) are always designed to be single-use and are disposable; they cannot be used in the kitchen (or back-of-house) for anything other than tasting.  So if you’re wondering how your bouillabaisse masterpiece is coming along, grab a plastic tasting spoon, dip in, taste, then throw away the spoon.  Easy and compliant!  All other utensils must be clean stainless steel.  Unfortunately, single-use plastic utensils are not designed to withstand dishwashing or sanitizing, so don’t even think about reusing them.  Paper cups (both portion cups and cups for drinking) are also single-use and should never be used during food preparation.

What about scoops?  Well, there are plastic scoops (used in ice, dry goods, or bulk product like flour, sugar, & salt) that are made of food-grade plastic, and even better (because they don’t eventually crack or chip) are the stainless steel variety.  All food scoops must have a defined handle.  A defined handle separates your hand, which could potentially contaminate the ice or bulk product you’re scooping.  Bowls, tureens, quart containers, or even five gallon pails can never be used as scoops because they do not have a defined handle and therefore no area of separation between where your hand grabs and where the foodstuff is contacted.  

What is the best way to store the scoop?  My favorite practice is to store the scoop outside the product in a dedicated coated-wire scoop holder or on a dry & cleanable surface (like a sheet tray).  You may also store the scoop inside the bulk product only if the food-contact surface stands upright in the product and the all-important handle (which should never touch the product) remains clean, extending away from the product, and is easily reachable.

The same idea applies to serving spoons, which may be kept standing in product stored in a cold rail/lowboy: they are allowed to stand “at the ready”, just so long as the handles never touch the product!  Bear in mind that the Health Code likes to see product covered to avoid potential contamination.  You can keep a lid on the container with the handle of the spoon sticking out. 

But be careful: a serving spoon handle or scoop with any foodstuff or product on it is considered to be a violation by the Dept of Health… because foodstuff touching the handle that you just grabbed with your hand means that whatever was on your hand got onto the handle and is now in the product.  (Yuck!)  Keep that handle clean & free of product. 

So….. when was the last time you washed your ice scoop?  Go on… send that thing through the dish machine!  Let it air dry before you put it back into service.

Ice should always be treated as a “ready-to-eat”(RTE) food, and scooped into clean, dedicated food-grade plastic buckets, or into clean stainless containers.  Ice buckets should be hung upside down to allow ice melt to drip onto the floor; the melt-water must be mopped up from the floor.  Because ice melts & shifts, an ice scoop should never be stored in the ice, as a shift in ice might allow the scoop to fall over and the scoop’s handle may contact the ice.  Unlike scoops for other foodstuff, the ice scoop should be stored in a coated-wire or dedicated plastic holder. (Further Reading: 3 Tips for Restaurants on Ice Management)

I hope this article has been helpful to you & your team.  Bon appetit! 

This article was submitted as part of our Industry Insider program. Learn more >>

By Austin Publicover, Founder of Bulletproof! Restaurant Compliance

Bulletproof! Restaurant Compliance is a New York City-based consultancy that helps restaurants and food service providers improve profitability, compliance assessment grades, and emergency readiness with a comprehensive approach to Health Tribunal representation, Operating permits, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans, Critical Path project management, Mock "Health" Inspections, Liquor license, and Regulatory Compliance and Certification (NYC Dept. of Health, Fire Dept., Dept. of Consumer Affairs, FDA, USDA/FSIS, Organic, NYS AgriMarkets).

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