Understanding Kitchen Hygiene and Sanitation
Nearly every few weeks, a new story seems to hit the headlines about foodborne illnesses. Salmonella in peanuts. E. coli in fruit juice. Mad cow in hamburgers. Every year, thousands of people become seriously ill from foodborne illnesses, and some even die. A single outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter in 2008-09 forced the largest food recall in U.S. history, sickened more than 600 people, killed 9, and caused parents everywhere to question the safety of a childhood staple, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Add to this the stories of sick cattle being processed for food in meat packing plants, and it is easy to see how fragile our food supply system can be.

Although there will always be factors outside your control, by understanding the best practices in kitchen hygiene and sanitation, you can make sure your facility is as safe as possible. Good sanitation and safety will reduce the chances that anyone will become ill or die as a result of food prepared in your restaurant. No matter what your job function in the commercial kitchen, everything you do has an impact on the safety and quality of the end product your customer receives. Whether you are a manager, line cook, dishwasher, or server, the way you do your job affects your establishment's overall health.

A failure to understand and follow appropriate kitchen sanitation guidelines can have serious consequences. First, sloppy habits lead to unsafe products, which can make people sick. In a worst-case scenario, your facility could be ground zero for a large-scale outbreak of a severely unpleasant disease like E. coli or salmonella poisoning. On on a smaller scale, if a group of four or five people gets sick after eating at your restaurant, they will never come back. Even worse, they will spread the word to all of their friends, co-workers, and anyone else who is willing to listen. This kind of negative chatter can ruin your facility's reputation, and your customer base will shrink, which means everyone in the establishment will make less money -- and some will probably have to be let go. An improperly cleaned kitchen or dining room can also be a turn-off to customers, especially those who have a high expectation of quality. Not to mention the fact that an atmosphere of sloppiness will affect the way every staff member does their job. By not following and enforcing best practices, workers will sense that the rules are really just "suggestions," and they will stop taking them seriously. It won't take long before the lackadaisical attitude begins to permeate the whole business, creating a generally unpleasant environment either for eating or for working in. Lastly, no commercial kitchen can operate without a permit from the health department. If the situation deteriorates badly enough, a health department inspector will close the facility down, and then everyone will be out of a job.

Here is an example of a nightmare scenario: You walk into a fast-food restaurant after the dinner rush one night. You order a roast beef sandwich and fries. The server has long, stringy hair that keeps poking her in the eyes, so she repeatedly tucks her hair behind her ears and rubs her eyes. You see her scratch the inside of her ear with a long, jagged fingernail. She takes your money with ungloved hands, then (without washing her hands) she goes to serve up your fries and grab a sandwich off the warming tray, on which the heat lamp appears to be broken. When your food is delivered, you turn to the condiment table, where crusted ketchup is stuck all over the counter. While you are trying to squeeze out a little mustard from the dirty pump container, you spot a cockroach walking unafraid down the middle of the counter. You return to inform the server, who simply shrugs and says, "Okay," as if you had just told her the sky was blue.

This is an example of a facility that should be shut down today, and probably would be if the health department walked in. Hair should always be restrained so that it doesn't fall into food. Workers should wear hats and refrain from touching their eyes, ears, mouths or nose without washing hands. Speaking of hand-washing, workers must wash up any time they switch from money-handling to food-handling. The broken heat lamp is a good sign that foods are not being held at appropriate temperatures, and if no one is bothering to clean the condiment table, which every customer sees, you can just imagine what the hidden parts of the kitchen and storage areas look like. If any cockroach is so bold as to walk down the middle of a counter while humans are standing in the area and lights are on, that's a sign that they have free run of the joint. The best advice to a customer in this situation? Run, and run fast.

This training will not only explain what's wrong with the scene described above, but why, and how bacteria transfers from one place to another, multiplies, and makes people sick. This course will also explain the best ways to prevent foodborne illness, including hand washing techniques, dish washing practices, facility cleaning, best practices for storage, food handling, temperature monitoring, pest prevention, and managing relationships with the health department. Also, if you ever plan on designing or managing your own restaurant, this module offers some helpful suggestions about kitchen design and planning.

Overview of Foodborne Illnesses
It happens all the time. You enjoy a pleasant meal in what seems like a nice restaurant. You start out feeling just fine, but over the course of a few minutes or a few hours, you find yourself feeling worse and worse. You have all kinds of delicate names for the condition -- upset stomach, stomach flu, "something I ate," but in many cases, you are suffering from a bout of food poisoning or foodborne illness. Each of the specific diseases has its own symptoms, but in many cases, they look a whole lot like the stomach flu (stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea). Most often, food poisoning is a result of food being improperly stored, handled, or prepared. Sometimes a sick cook or server can contaminate food.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5000 deaths in the United States each year. What is a foodborne illness? As the name implies, it is a sickness that travels through the food system. Foodborne illnesses include both viruses and bacteria. In general, these diseases travel from one place to another on unwashed hands or contaminated utensils. Harmful bacteria thrive in the same sorts of temperatures humans do, neither too hot nor too cold. A nice, room-temperature counter top is an ideal place for bacteria to grow and multiply. So is a buffet line, or an exposed cooler that might hold pre-packaged sandwiches for sale.

Before we get into details about preventing the spread of these germs, let's spend a few minutes explaining what the germs are, the kinds of effects they have on people, how they are spread, and where they are normally found.


Salmonella is a disease caused by a germ that lives in the digestive tract of animals and humans. These germs produce toxins that make people feel sick, but in order for the germs to get into the food, they have to find some way to move from the animal's intestinal tract. The easiest way to do this is to hitch a ride in animal feces. (Yes, that's right. Poop).

Salmonella germs show up most often in milk, eggs, poultry, pork, seafood and meats. Lunch meats, like bologna and ham, can also contain salmonella germs. The germs may multiply and grow, but food contaminated with this organism will still look and smell normal. The only way make contaminated food safe is to heat the food high enough to kill the germs.

When people become sick with salmonella, they will suffer a range of symptoms -- from general stomach upset, to flu-like symptoms. In the very young, very old, or in people with weak immune systems, even a small amount of salmonella germs can cause life-threatening illness.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Kitchen Sanitation course?

The best way to keep anyone from getting sick with salmonella is to prevent the spread of the germs in the first place. After using the bathroom, always wash hands. Make sure all food prep surfaces are properly cleaned, and always be careful to heat foods to their proper temperatures when cooking. Serve food promptly and carefully monitor temperatures in areas where foods are held warm, like under heat lamps and on buffet lines. Don't allow frozen meats to thaw at room temperature, and never serve food that has been sitting around for a prolonged period of time.

E. Coli

E. Coli bacteria live in the intestinal tract of cows. In this case, the germs move from the animal's intestine into the meat during the slaughter process. Large-scale animal slaughter can get pretty messy, creating an environment where a cow's last poo is happening at the same time it is being cut up for processing. The germs may get into other foods, too, like cow's milk, alfalfa sprouts, leafy vegetables, salami, unpasteurized juice and contaminated water.

Most people will recover pretty quickly from a minor dose of E. coli, but a large dose of the germs can cause a severe and possibly fatal illness, particularly in people with weak immune systems.

The best way to kill E. coli germs is to make sure food, especially ground beef, is cooked until the internal temperature reaches 160° F. Ground beef is a higher risk than whole beef like steak, because a piece of meat that stays whole never has its insides exposed to any outside germs. Ground meats, however, are all mixed together, which creates an opportunity for outside germs to find their way into the middle of a hamburger, and if that inner part of the burger never reaches a safe cooking temperature, then the germs will be able to thrive and multiply.

Also, proper hand washing can help prevent the spread of germs from one infected person to others.


Like E. coli and salmonella, listeria can linger in the intestinal tract of animals and make its way into food products. The bacteria usually causes flu-like symptoms such as aches and pains, but the illness can be severe for people with weak immune systems, especially pregnant women. Listeria is most often associated with contaminated lunch meats and hot dogs, unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses. The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is to keep cold foods at a safe temperature (40° F or lower) and to heat hot dogs to steaming hot before serving. These germs are particularly tough--even in a refrigerator, listeria can multiply, and they can survive the cold temperatures of a freezer for months.


Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, is usually associated with a skin infection and can be very serious if it takes the form of cellulites. This bacteria also produces a toxin that causes food poisoning. Staph food poisoning symptoms usually come on very fast, and in most people, they are not life-threatening and they pass on their own in a few days. There are always exceptions, of course. Staph germs usually travel from hand to food. According to the CDC, Foods at highest risk of contamination with staph are those that are made by hand and require no cooking. Some examples of foods that have caused staphylococcal food poisoning are sliced meat, puddings, some pastries and sandwiches.

Staph germs can grow even in very salty foods like ham, and they can survive at high temperatures, so cooking won't kill them. The best way to keep people from getting sick with staph is to keep the food from getting contaminated in the first place--by washing hands, and being careful not to touch your eyes, ears, mouth or nose while working with food. Also, people with eye, ear, nose and throat infections should not be working with food.


Botulism is most often associated with canned foods, and it has a very high death rate. These microbes thrive when foods are not properly canned, and they pose the greatest risk when they appear in foods people generally eat unheated, like canned fruits. The germs can even survive at high temperatures for several minutes, so a quick warm-up will not kill all the germs. Bottom line of botulism: Never use cans of food that look like they are bulging (a sign of a canning process gone wrong) or dented (a clue that the vacuum seal on the can may be broken and germs may have gotten in after processing.


Aside from all the bacteria that can infect foods, there are a wide range of parasites that also thrive in food and can cause illness in humans. Parasites are organisms that need to find a host to live. They can enter into a person's digestive system through food products, and once they are inside the body, they stay, feeding off of their host's food supply. Not only is it revolting to imagine a parasite living inside your intestines, but the parasite can basically starve its host.

One of the most common parasitic diseases in the U.S. is toxoplasmosis. The CDC reports that in various places throughout the world, up to 95 percent of some populations have been infected withtoxoplasmosis.

Most healthy people can fight off toxoplasmosis and never even be aware they have had it. For others, a bout with the parasite can produce mild flu-like symptoms. For pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can result in a miscarriage or birth defects in the child. In HIV patients, it can be a serious disease that produces fever, confusion, headache, seizures, nausea, and poor coordination.

The best way to control toxoplasmosis may sound very similar to the other diseases mentioned above: Wash hands. Cook foods thoroughly. Use a regularly calibrated meat thermometer. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Wash and sanitize cutting boards after use, and do not use the same cutting board for raw meats and foods that will be eaten without cooking.