ORLANDO, Fla. -- Commercial kitchen design needs to balance labor efficiency with food safety, according to an industry veteran who recently spoke on the subject.
In the ideal food-safe kitchen, produce is washed right inside the door, poultry is processed in its own dedicated zone, and hot food and chilled food are dealt with in completely separate areas, said Mickey McKee, chef and senior consultant at Solganik & Associates, a Dayton, Ohio, firm that works with supermarkets.
Particularly in a kitchen that's producing food for later consumption, as well as food for immediate consumption, the route to food safety lies to a large degree in a straight-line flow of people and product, McKee said.
In such a kitchen -- whether a retailer's central commissary or a supermarket in-store kitchen, as well as a kitchen in a restaurant that does catering -- the paths of incoming product and outgoing product should never cross, McKee explained.
The flow of product should begin with a designated receiving door with a distinct path to storage areas and processing areas. A separate path for finished goods should lead out another door, McKee said.
The fictional kitchen McKee discussed does a lot of processing of fresh produce and meat as well as doing a fair amount of from-scratch cooking, she said. What stands out in the design is a fairly one-way, circular flow of people and food, and obvious measures have been taken to eliminate cross-contamination, McKee pointed out.
"Raw fruits and vegetables are unboxed and washed just inside the receiving door so dirt doesn't get dragged into other production areas. Raw poultry and meats are stored and processed in a completely separate area where folks wear a different colored apron and hat. For example, all people and products that come in contact with raw poultry might wear red. The cutting boards and knife handles, too, would be red."
The ideal food-safe kitchen also features a section in which cooking is segregated in a "hot room" while all other processing is done at some level of refrigeration. Packaging and assembling of orders, too, are done in a refrigerated staging cooler, using stackable/nestable totes for transport on refrigerated trucks.
Conversely, the ready-to-eat-now foods would go into a staging area that offers the customer a view of the finishing touches being added.
"We are selling sizzle as well as quality and service, and open kitchens are a part of that, but the idea is to segregate such activity. Keeping cold products away from the hot cooking, for instance, is important so their temperature isn't raised [out of the safe zone]," McKee said.
Likewise it's essential to keep ready-to-finish products away from raw products. The lines of product for immediate service and the lines of prepared, chilled product heading for storage should not cross. In fact, a separate crew for each line makes sense as well, she said.
Acknowledging each kitchen has its quirks, McKee emphasized that if space prohibits a separate geographical location for tasks involving raw product, separate time zones could be set up in the same space.
"If you're butchering meat on-site, you could do it between 5 and 8 in the morning," she said. "Then a cleaning crew could come in to do a thorough cleaning and sanitizing of the area before another type of product, such as poultry, is processed."