When you open a new bar or restaurant, there seems to be a never ending list of regulations and codes to follow for a health inspection. At first, all attention is paid to keeping everything in sparkling order, but over time little things slide by. Soon enough, staff becomes lax enough that they only follow health and safety rules around or on the day of an anticipated inspection. Following this pattern is a slippery slope that eventually ends in a game of food and beverage safety roulette.
Let’s take a look at the most commonly overlooked health and safety regulations in bars and why they should always be followed.
Do not use a glass (or plastic) cup to get ice from a storage bin.
• An unwashed hand reaching closely into the ice will contaminate the ice.
• Cups that are not washed properly can also carry contaminating agents to the ice.
• Glass cups can chip. The chips will not always be visibly detectable and could end up in a customer’s drink.
• Use ice scoops, always.
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Do not use the same towel to wipe off the bar and to clean glassware.
• Food contact surfaces must be sanitized, not just wiped to look clean. Contaminates will be smeared around rather than killed, which can potentially affect the next customer.
• Muti-use towels pick up smells and spread them around, creating an unpleasant seating area for customers.
• Improperly sanitized bar tops can pass off bacteria to menu covers, silverware and napkins.
• Keep a bucket with a sanitizing solution behind the bar.
• Have a designated set of towels for wiping the bar only.
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Do not stack glassware directly on the bar.
• Storage mats protect glasses from getting chipped.
• Surfaces used for dining and drinking should never be used for overall storage. This creates a potential for cross-contamination for the stored objects. Also, storage areas are often left unchecked during sanitizing wipe downs.
• Glass racks and clean shelves provide safe areas without the risk of busy bartenders, servers or clumsy customers knocking over and breaking glasses into ice bins or other preparation and serving areas.
• Use bar mats for glasses that are stacked directly on counter tops.
• Utilize glass racks for organizing glassware.
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Wash and sanitize cutting boards and knives between uses and items (this includes cutting boards used for preparing garnishes.)
• Decrease the risk for a bad batch of fruit to spoil the bunch, contaminated fruit is just as much of a risk for causing cross-contamination as contaminated meat.
• Specialty garnishes that aren’t of the typical citrus variety are increasing in popularity and introduce more risk; such garnishments include shrimp, tomatoes, chilies, peppers and salami.
• Customers with sensitive allergies may experience a reaction from the smallest fragments of products mixing in with what they consider as a safe and allergy-free order.
• Use color coded cutting boards to keep preparation of garnish types separated.
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Wash all fruit or vegetable garnishes in the kitchen prep area thoroughly before cutting.
• Remain in a food safe area just as the kitchen staff does when preparing food for menu items and avoid using the bar sink for washing produce.
• Dirty glasses and splashing water create a possibly contaminated area for scrubbing produce.
• Customers can sneeze or cough in the direction of your scrubbing (and cutting area.)
• Designate a time for washing produce in the kitchen prior to a bartender’s shift starting to prevent overcrowding in prep areas.
Throw out unused garnishes at the end of service and clean and sanitize the condiment and garnish holder every 24 hours.
• Try as you may to keep sticky fingers out, grabby patrons and servers will snatch from the garnish holder and chances are they are not doing so with freshly washed hands.
• Flies love sugar alcohols and will frequent garnish holders off and on during any given shift, thus bringing and leaving contaminating bacteria along the way.
• Contaminated trays will carry over bacteria from one night to the next.
• Post a reminder in the bartender’s closing checklist to discard unused garnishes and sanitize the holder every night.
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Use tongs or toothpicks to handle cut garnishes when creating a cocktail.
• Although some states may allow bare-hand contact, it is in best practice to use toothpicks or tongs when handling cocktail garnishes to prevent cross-contamination.
• Busy bartenders are often completing three tasks at the same time: speed cleaning a glass in the sink, pouring drinks and reaching for the proper garnishes.
• Customers are often put off by watching bartenders handle garnishes directly with their bare hands. Create a safe and inviting atmosphere by taking the time to keep tongs or toothpicks next to the garnish tray.
• Keep a well-stocked supply of toothpicks and tongs near the garnish area.
• Avoid the urge to lick fingers when picking up a cocktail napkin or check ticket. This is one of the biggest bar health and safety offenses from behind the bar.
• Keep check presenters and writing pads in a safe place, not in your pants. Bartenders and servers often tuck check presenters and order pads just behind the back of their pants waist band. This provides an “ick” factor for discerning guests and also puts a constant point of contact in a less than sanitary area.
Although the list may seem daunting at first, the above rules can be completed without losing speed of service and without requiring significantly longer set up or break down times. Simply take some initial time to organize your bar area to have the proper tools in place before and throughout service. Train your bar and support staff to ensure health and safety accuracy. Incorporate these practices daily and nightly to protect your customers and your business. In addition to these measures, encourage frequent hand washing. Keep critical violations at bay and remain consistent with your health and safety standards to ensure safe service.