Back to the Basics: Food Safety in the Restaurant

Dec 09, 2022

The Environmental Health Services (EHS) links most food poisoning cases to eating in restaurants. They performed a study analyzing the food safety practices of restaurant workers, and the study found that less-experienced workers engaged in risky food practices. Dangerous food practices are also more prevalent in independent restaurants than in chain restaurants.

Restaurants can avoid foodborne illnesses by practicing basic food safety. Workers must keep themselves and their areas clean and separate raw and ready-to-eat foods. Restaurants must also practice proper chilling and cooking methods.

Restaurants that don’t follow these basic food safety practices are liable to make their diners sick. Foodborne illnesses caused by negligent restaurants have led to many lawsuits across the country. In many cases, the restaurants must pay thousands or millions of dollars in reparation.

Essential Food Safety Practices for Restaurants to Follow

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service says there are four steps to maintaining a safe restaurant:

  • Clean
  • Separate
  • Cook
  • Chill


CDC found that workers wash their hands when they should only 1 in 3 times. Employees must wash their hands and restaurant surfaces often to prevent contamination. Before handling food, employees must wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water and use the designated handwashing sink, not the preparation sink.

Employees who wear gloves must wash their hands before putting them on. Employees should change their gloves whenever they switch tasks that could cause cross-contamination.

Doing so can help prevent the spread and outbreak of diseases such as COVID-19, Salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus.

employee gloves


The USDA says to keep ready-to-eat and raw foods separate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and juices away from other foods. Prepare the meat in an area away from other foods. After preparing the meat, wash and sanitize cutting boards, knives, and countertops.


Always use safe thawing practices, as recommended by the USDA. First, you can thaw food in the refrigerator, but ensure that juices do not leak onto other foods. Second, you can thaw food placed in a leak-proof bag in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes and cook immediately upon thawing. Lastly, you can safely thaw food in the microwave.

Meat that needs to marinate should marinate in the refrigerator, where it can stay cold. To avoid cross-contamination, keep the marinating meat inside a pan covered with plastic wrap.

Always check foods with a thermometer to ensure you’re cooking them to the proper temperature. Raw beef, lamb, pork, and veal must reach a minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Allow the meat to rest for three minutes before cutting and serving for the best quality and safety. Ground meats must reach an internal temperature of 160°F. Poultry must reach an internal temperature of 165°F.


The USDA says to refrigerate or freeze food promptly to avoid contamination. You must refrigerate perishable food within two hours. Fresh poultry, fish, and ground meat must be cooked or frozen within two days. Beef, veal, lamb, and pork should be cooked or frozen within three to five days.

You should check the temperature of your refrigerator (>40°F) and freezer (>0°F) with an appliance thermometer.


Restaurants that don’t follow proper food safety practices are held accountable for causing illness in their diners. Below are two of the most severe cases of food poisoning caused by negligent restaurant practices.

1. Torchy’s Tacos — Texas

In 2021, a family sued Torchy’s Tacos in San Antonio, Texas, for $200,000. Two months after eating at Torchy’s, their child was still in the hospital, fighting a salmonella infection he developed after eating contaminated onions at the restaurant.

The child began showing symptoms ten days after eating the onions, and his symptoms worsened over the week, leading to hospitalization. His infection resulted in sepsis, pneumonia, and organ failure.

2. Chipotle Mexican Grill

In 2020, Chipotle agreed to pay $25 million in response to criminal charges they received for serving tainted food between 2015 and 2018. The tainted food caused sickness in over 1,100 people across the United States.

According to the New York Times,  “Nick Hanna, U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement that Chipotle failed to ‘ensure that its employees both understood and complied with its food safety protocols, resulting in hundreds of customers across the country getting sick.’”

restaurant food safety


Restaurants that don’t follow basic food safety practices are likely to cause foodborne illnesses within their clientele. Severe cases of food poisoning may lead to legal action being taken against the restaurant. Fortunately, restaurants can avoid causing harm. They need to keep surfaces clean, keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate, and chill and cook food properly. For professional assistance with food safety, please contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.