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A commercial kitchen is a wondrously creative and exciting place to work, but it can also be extremely dangerous for anyone who isn't careful.

According to the BLS statistics, three percent of all restaurant workers were reported injured during 2017 with perhaps many more unreported incidents. While the vast majority of the reported kitchen injuries were relatively minor, such as cuts and burns, some major incidents resulted in deaths.

The good news is that it is possible to improve kitchen safety and sanitation significantly by adhering to simple commonsense restaurant kitchen safety rules.

So, the question is not why is kitchen safety important, but what can you do to decrease the chances of getting hurt on the job.

Guidelines For Health and Safety in Restaurants

Dress the part. A cook's uniform isn't just for appearance's sake; it serves a real purpose, protection. Even if you are not wearing traditional chef whites, you still need to choose your clothing carefully.

Proper Kitchen Attire

  • A long-sleeved jacket or at least a long-sleeved shirt will protect you from burns. Although many cooks elect to roll up their sleeves, doing so will expose more of your arm to potential burns.
  • Long pants are a must. In a hot kitchen, shorts may be cooler, but getting hot water or grease directly on the bare skin of your leg isn't something you want to happen.
  • Closed-toe shoes not only help protect your feet from falling objects, but they keep the kitchen more sanitary. Also, always wear socks to protect against blisters.
  • Wearing hair covering is required by many local health codes, but even if it isn't, you should still wear something on your head. If you have long hair, pull it back and tuck under your hat. No one wants to find a stray strand of hair in the food.
  • Leave your jewelry at home. Not only can bracelets, rings and necklaces get caught in equipment and cause a nasty injury, but pieces of jewelry falling off into food is more common than you think.
  • Wear an apron. Aprons help to keep your uniform clean and provide additional protection. They also give you a great place to carry two side towels. Remember to keep these towels clean and dry to avoid cross-contamination and burning yourself. Damp side towels don't protect against heat.

Kitchen Health and Sanitation Rules

Knowing and applying proper sanitation in the kitchen is not just to avoid health code violations; the code is designed to keep you and your guests safe.

  • Avoid the danger zone. Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees are conducive to bacteria food. That's why it is critical to keep food out of that range.
  • Don't allow cross-contamination. Never allow cooked food and raw food to touch, especially meats. Always place raw meat on the bottom shelf of the walk-in. Be aware of food which may cause potential allergies, and be careful when storing or preparing those items.
  • Prepare and use proper sanitizing solution. Use sanitizing solution which is accepted by your local health code to wipe down your station and board frequently. Follow your local health codes when it comes to keeping side towels and small tools in sanitizing solution.

How to Maneuver in a Professional Kitchen

Move with purpose. Aimlessly wandering around a commercial kitchen is an excellent way to getting hurt or unintentionally hurting someone else. Therefore, before you leave your station, you must know where you are going and choose the safest path to your destination.

  • Look out for potential tripping hazards such as kitchen mats, spills, or uneven floors.
  • Avoid carrying exposed knives when possible, especially during service, and when you must, always walk with the knife pointed down. If your path takes you near others, be sure to call out "knife" to let others know to be extra careful.
  • If you are carrying a heavy load, carry it the right way. Make sure to always lift with your legs, take short steps, and avoid twisting your body when turning. Remember it is okay to use a kitchen cart or ask for assistance if the load is too heavy for you to move on your own.
  • When you are carrying anything which is bulky, carry it in such a way that it won't obscure your vision of the floor or those around you.
  • Use your voice to let your coworkers know you are approaching. Use phrases like "behind," "coming through," or "hot" as warnings to others.

Ask For Help

In a professional kitchen, it’s important to know what you are doing. Many young or inexperienced cooks use equipment or techniques they haven't yet mastered to avoid looking like amateurs. Don't fall into that trap. There is no shame in admitting you haven't used a particular piece of equipment in the past.

It is essential to know how to turn on, off, and properly operate everything you use to reduce your chance of getting hurt. Also, make sure you understand the proper techniques for each of your tasks. Asking for a little help will save your fingers and your pride in the long run.

Learn Kitchen Safety at OCI

These guidelines only begin to scratch the surface when it comes to kitchen safety concerns. That is why everyone who works in a commercial kitchen must have proper kitchen safety and sanitation education before starting their first job.

Discover how the Oregon Culinary Institute teaches you how to succeed in the fast-paced restaurant industry.