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How to Create a Restaurant Safety Checklist

Grace JidounAuthor

Are you wondering what should be on your Restaurant Safety Checklist? We’ve gathered up the latest information on kitchen precautions, employee well-being, and customer safety that will answer that question and more. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll show you how to create a safety game plan like a pro.

Workplace accidents happen in every industry, but restaurants face unique challenges, and dangerous mishaps might be more common than you realize. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that about 93,800 private industry workers in full-service food establishments received nonfatal injuries and illnesses in a single year. The injuries varied from serious to low-risk, but one-third of the employees required at least one day off. Running a safe and secure operation is the cornerstone of being an excellent manager. The good news is that a little upfront planning goes a long way toward preventing accidents.

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What Should Be on a Restaurant Safety Checklist?

This guide is not one-size-fits-all – it’s about figuring out which safety precautions your restaurant needs and how to implement them. Think of this checklist as a basic framework with room for flexibility. We provide the essential guidelines and some important tips to get you started, and you tailor the information to fit your unique needs.

General Safety Precautions

Maintain a Clean and Organized Environment

Keeping your restaurant clean is an ongoing process. Once you have a system in place, it will become second nature to your staff and part of the standard operating procedures. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind.

Nearly all restaurants thoroughly clean the dining areas and kitchens, but you must also ensure all storage spaces are regularly cleaned to avoid spoilage, pests, and other unsavory situations. Pay special attention to the restrooms, as many customers will judge the overall cleanliness of your restaurant based on its condition.

Creating proper waste disposal procedures starts with identifying the many types of garbage a restaurant generates: food scraps, oil and grease, paper waste, containers, and more. Each one requires distinct handling to prevent contamination and accidents (especially in the case of grease disposal).

Slips, Trips, and Falls Prevention

If you’ve ever tripped and fallen on a hard floor, you know how painful it can be. Add in a kitchen full of stoves and knives, and a simple slip-and-fall can turn into a pretty awful injury. Commercial non-skid floor mats should be at the top of your shopping list, along with appropriate “wet floor” signage for all restaurant areas. 

Be sure to keep all pathways in the kitchen clear of supplies and equipment, and don’t be shy about throwing down those non-slip mats in any area prone to wetness. Likewise, the walkways in the front of the house should be unobstructed, with tables spaced apart and a clear path to the exit and bathrooms.   

Emergency Preparedness

A restaurant kitchen is a place of wild creative inspiration — and also a potential accident minefield. Having an emergency plan is non-negotiable. It should include a fire evacuation plan, an extensive first aid kit, and clearly defined first aid procedures.

Of course, what good is a plan if your staff doesn’t know how to implement it? Every employee, from the hostess up to the chef de cuisine, should be familiar with all safety procedures and the locations of first aid kits and fire extinguishers. It’s important to conduct drills regularly with your entire staff.

Kitchen and Food Safety

Food Handling and Storage

“Food safety as a habit” should be every manager’s mantra, says Larry Lynch, Senior Vice President for Health, Safety, and Regulatory Services at the National Restaurant Association. “It’s all about pushing it down to the next level in the restaurants. It should come from the top down so that all employees understand the core concept of food safety. Whether ownership or senior management, you really need to drive home the message through training.”

Lynch says there is one area that trips up restaurants the most: temperature. Set strict guidelines for safe storage temperatures, as bacteria can begin to grow if the temperature is just a little bit off. Keep an eye on those perishable items and rotate them out frequently. 

Equipment Safety

Restaurant equipment sees a lot of wear and tear, so it’s important to regularly inspect all cooking equipment to ensure everything is functioning properly and installed correctly. If you’re wondering where to start, check out our Essential Guide to Restaurant Equipment Maintenance.

The cutting-edge technology in professional kitchens these days could rival any Silicon Valley startup. Even mom-and-pop outfits have specialized gadgets and high-tech appliances that will require training. Make sure all staff are trained on safe operation and handling of kitchen machinery to prevent accidents. 

Fire Safety

Having an emergency fire plan in place is vital — and in most cases, it’s the law. The first step is to outfit your entire restaurant with fire alarms, extinguishers, smoke detectors, and fire suppression systems. But then you can’t just set it and forget it; your fire systems will need to be routinely inspected and tested to ensure they’re always in working order. 

Emergency exits in both the front and back of the house should be clearly marked, and the pathways should never be blocked.

Sanitation and Cleaning

When it comes to cleaning, there is one basic principle to keep in mind: clean everything upside down and backward ­— that includes kitchen tools, utensils, and work surfaces. Create a comprehensive cleaning checklist to keep your staff on schedule and your restaurant sparkling.

Armed with the cleaning checklist, thoroughly train your staff on proper sanitization techniques. Cross-contamination is the bane of all restaurants, leading to 800 foodborne illness outbreaks at food retail establishments from 2017 to 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Employee Safety

Occupational Health and Safety

COVID-19 drove home the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) in all workplaces, especially restaurants. Now, outfitting your employees with gloves, masks, hair nets, aprons, and whatever PPE makes sense seems like a no-brainer. 

State, county, and local requirements vary widely, so check with your state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) division for specific prerequisites. Make safe work practices a part of your ongoing regular training for employees.

Injury Prevention

Your state’s division of OSHA provides free tools and training on injury prevention for managers and business owners. Here are a few top tips to keep in mind:

Restaurant work is famous for being a physically demanding job. To reduce strain, teach all employees how to lift heavy objects properly (squat down, bend at the knees and hips only, and lift by straightening your knees, not your back). Invest in tools that reduce physical injury, like trolleys and lifting equipment.

In such a physically demanding industry, it’s wise to encourage more frequent breaks than required by law (in California, it’s ten minutes of paid rest per four hours of work) to prevent repetitive strain injuries.

Chemical Handling

Chemicals should be properly stored and labeled, meaning they should be stored separately from food and food equipment. Ideally, containers should be marked with the chemical’s common name (chlorine, ammonia, iodine), and only trained personnel should handle them. 

Provide your employees with appropriate protective gear when using chemicals, including gloves and, in some cases, eye protection. Restaurants often use color-code gloves for different tasks to prevent scary mix-ups. We’re confident you’ve ensured proper ventilation for your kitchen and customer area. The use of chemicals is yet another reason why adequate ventilation is so critical. 

Customer Safety

Allergen Awareness

So much of the diner’s well-being falls on the waitstaff and the chefs. When a guest informs a waiter or waitress of a food allergy, all your employees need to play an active role in preventing an adverse reaction. Ingredients in the kitchen should be clearly labeled, and if any cooking tools make contact with food allergens they must be washed thoroughly. The first line of defense is regular staff training and promoting clear communication between the front and back of the house.

Another way to help is to label allergens on your menu and educate customers on safe dining practices so they can make informed decisions. Consider reviewing the ingredients of a dish with your guest and discussing its preparation to identify possible cross-contamination. If a customer does have an allergic reaction, notify a manager and call 911. To gain more insight on this life-threatening topic, read How to Accommodate Guests With Food Allergies.

Floor and Seating Safety

No restaurant in the world wants to injure its customers, but common hazards may be right in front of your nose. A mug of hot tea on a wobbly table can turn dangerous quickly. Regularly inspect chairs and tables for broken pieces and general stability, and repair or replace items promptly. 

We love atmospheric lighting and dining by candlelight just as much as the next person, but there should always be enough lighting to see where you’re going (and what you’re eating) without mishaps.

Hygiene and Sanitation

Ever since the pandemic, customers have become accustomed to having access to several clean sinks to wash their hands and hand sanitizer at the ready. A small or dirty sink is now a big red flag to customers.

Avoid a build-up of germs, food matter, and fingerprints on menus, condiments, and high-touch areas by adding these to your regular cleaning routine. Nothing can kill an appetite faster than spotting a greasy smudge while you’re dining out.

Restaurant Safety Compliance and Documentation

Adhere to Local Regulations

As Larry Lynch of the National Restaurant Association says, “The requirements of food safety go deep. You want to mitigate that risk. Remember, it’s not the size of the restaurant; it’s what you’re serving that matters.” Get out in front of potential problems by studying up on health and safety regulations specific to your location before the inspector comes knocking on your door. The rules sometimes change, making it essential to keep abreast of the latest research to maintain your permits and licenses.

Keep Records

The most effective way to ace food and health inspections is to keep detailed records of your regular safety training and maintenance activities. Make sure to record feedback from the inspector, both good and bad, to share with the entire staff. 

Document any accidents, injuries, or incidents to keep your workplace safe, transparent, and compliant. Your restaurant can use this information to make important corrections to your procedures — ultimately leading to a safer and happier environment for anyone who walks through your doors. 

With this guide, you’re halfway to a safer and more productive restaurant where you can produce countless amazing meals for hungry customers. The next step in the journey is making it all happen.  

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