In this article we will be highlighting best practices for commercial food storage in restaurants, grocery stores, and food storage applications. Lately this has been a hot topic in the news. It's far too often an occurrence where we've seen in the news a food product recall in a wide range of commercial food manufacturing venues. Take for example the recent outbreak of food borne illness carried by supposedly "washed and bagged fresh spinach" of all types. This lead to massive recalls across the country. And unfortunately cost some innocent people their lives. How could this happen in today's age of modern technology and state of the art food processing plants? By not closely following recommended operating procedures, the basic fundamentals mind you, of safe food handling and commercial food storage. These recent incidents have brought this issue to the forefront of our billion-dollar food industry.
It's important to keep in mind that whenever any type of food product is harvested, animal, vegetable, grain, fish, actually anything we will eat, the moment it's harvested it starts to decay. It's a race against time to insure that that food item will be safe to eat by the general public. The primary goal of commercial food storage is that it be safely maintained until it is ready for production or consumption. Failure to follow standard operating procedures that have been in place or decades will not only cost you money in lost inventory, but as we've seen, could cost someone their life. Hard to comprehend in today's day and age someone could lose their life over trying to eat healthy!
Commercial Food Storage: 3 Types of Perishable Foods
Commercial food storage is an important part of food manufacturing. So let's take a look at the three main categories of perishable foods.
IMMEDIATE PERISHABLE FOODS
First and foremost are the "Immediate Perishable" foods. These are foods that will only last 30 days or less on the shelf. These include and are not limited to; Fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and fresh meats. As we mentioned earlier we will highlight the fundamentals of each category. Contamination of produce, dairy, and meat products with harmful microorganisms can occur at all stages of production, processing, storage, transportation, preparation, and serving. Therefore to prevent food borne illness, foods in this category must be handled properly from farm to table.
When purchasing and receiving any perishable item it's important to keep a few steps in mind; check your suppliers or source carefully. Are their facilities up to par? Are they maintaining proper storage temperatures? Do they comply with federal safety standards? Doing a little research is necessary to determine if they have a good reputation. Although, this is not always a guarantee of compliance. Procedures need to be established for inspecting and accepting or rejecting incoming deliveries. Storing received perishable food items is the next step. Are your commercial cooler & freezers maintained at the proper temperatures? Are they cleaned regularly? Produce should be kept at least 6 inches off the ground, in clean see through containers. Not the cardboard boxes they arrived in. There are a variety of clear vinyl coated wall charts guides you can place inside your commercial cooler that will help you & your staff stay on point. Proper labeling and inventory rotation is also a critical aspect of proper food handling. As they say, first in, first out.
SEMI PERISHABLE FOODS
The next level is "Semi Perishable" foods that last anywhere from a month to six months. These are packaged snack foods, processed cheese products, cured meats, ice cream and frozen food. This is where the commercial food manufacturer or producer can be your best friend. They have a vested interest in helping you maintain and properly storing, and serving their products. This category can actually be a little trickier than "Immediate perishable items" for it's easier to lose track of dates on items that don't need such vigilant attention within a 30-day period. These items need more attention to date labeling, proper rotation schedules, and regular inspections. In addition, these food products should never be kept in the cardboard boxes they arrive in. It may be easy to fall into bad habits with this group of food items. Just as you would store your perishable products in groups, this would apply here as well. Clear containers; well light commercial coolers and freezers. People are much less inclined to go through a walk in freezer to rotate inventory and check dates!
LONG LIFE SHELF FOODS
The last group is "Long Life shelf foods" These items can last from six months to three years or more. In this category you will find canned goods, jarred pickled or preserved foods, dehydrated foods, and again some specially cured items. Clear and adequate storage and labeling are necessary. Again it's easy to not rotate cases and cases of heavy canned goods and ignore the very back row of items! Eventually these foods will also spoil. So, just because it's in a can or jar doesn't mean it's impervious to damage. Keep in mind, the longer a canned, or jarred item is stored, it will slowly lose its flavor.
We hope this has been a helpful overview of commercial food storage. The fundamentals of safe food handling have not changed in decades. In today's food industry more common sense is necessary on everyone's part to keep us safe. There are any resources available to you at no charge to assist you in implementing your own food safety best practices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is an invaluable resource of information on these and many more food related topics.