An experienced restaurateur knows that both the heart and the brain of a successful restaurant rest within its commercial kitchen. Sleight of hand in a busy catering or retail operation may go a long way but engineering the chef’s workstation to not only fit the theme of the food business, but to also consider best food safety practices goes much further. For someone who’s considering entering the realm of hospitality by exploring either catering or retail facilities, it’s best to not assume that a commercial kitchen functions just like a domestic one. When things begin to fall apart in the kitchen, it results in a domino effect that eventually snowballs into outlandish PR. Building a commercial kitchen from scratch or renovating an existing one can be done successfully with a holistic approach.
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Explore This IssueDecember/January 2017
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Some of the components that tend to be overlooked whilst designing and/or renovating a commercial kitchen are: approvals, risk assessments, smart space utilization, equipment selection and placement, process management, food waste management, integrated pest management (IPM), and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).
Wouldn’t it be a comedown to have sections of a fully purpose built kitchen torn down only because the scope of activity or the flow of work was not approved by the regulatory authorities prior to commencing the operation? It’s best to be mindful of the local regulation and guidelines pertaining to the food business. There are specific food safety requirements when it comes to storage, processing, and serving certain categories of food products such as halal, certified organic, gluten-free, dairy free, etc. The rule of thumb for franchised food establishments is to not only follow the parent or corporate guidelines but also to reflect the regional food safety regulations. Working with a multi-disciplinary team that comprises members who are well versed in food flow, inventory, engineering and maintenance, fire safety, pest control, cleaning and disinfection, and waste management would not only help gain more insight but also facilitate future growth. Altering or modifying the dining area is comparatively easier than remodeling the commercial kitchen.
A good commercial kitchen is designed in parallel with the menu. Based on space availability, the kitchen needs to accommodate a linear workflow to prevent cross-contamination. For instance, modifying the menu at a later stage to incorporate a high risk product such as homemade ice cream presumably would result in the surfacing of various food safety deviations simply because the existing floor plan of the kitchen did not factor in requirements such as storage space, ingredient flow, and processing. Planning remains incomplete without thorough risk assessments and menu analysis.
Smart Space Utilization and Ergonomics
It’s time to uncomplicate. Let’s not see a commercial kitchen as mulligatawny soup.
It doesn’t matter how elaborate and well-equipped a commercial kitchen is, if ergonomics was not a part of the designing process. The lesser the steps involved for members of the kitchen and service team to complete a task, the greater is the efficiency of the team. Also, through the simple principles of ergonomics, one is more likely to reduce the chances of cross-contamination, which is the ogre of any food business. Employee safety and mobility are and should be, of paramount importance. An example to illustrate ergonomics would be the use of under-counter chillers. This limits the need to walk to the allocated walk-in refrigerators frequently and also saves a lot of space. One needs to be mindful of the heights of equipment because a mismatch could not only hinder the process but also result in injuries.
Selection and Placement of Equipment
The food and beverage industry is constantly evolving and that adds to the plethora of commercial kitchen grade equipment to select from. Keeping budget frames in mind, choosing the right type of equipment such as fryers, combi-ovens, under-counter refrigerators, preparation sinks, etc. depends on not just the available space, but also the workforce capacity and of course, maintenance. It’s certainly a good initiative to opt for state-of-the-art equipment if the business can afford it. However, the said investment would prove to be futile if the maintenance and replacement of worn out parts proved to be a daunting task.
The main factor that the efficiency as well as safety of a kitchen relies on is the placement of the equipment. It is recommended to place fast cooking equipment, such as griddles and fryers, closer to the point of service and bulk cooking points where multiple ingredients meet, such as boiling pans and pots, within the core of the kitchen’s “hot section” and distant from the service points. Not only does this cut down opportunities for cross-contamination but it also facilitates quicker assembly and delivery.
Without having to compromise on the authenticity of a specific recipe, certain processes could be combined if not reduced to both increase the efficiency of workflow and also eliminate chances for cross-contamination. For instance, pre-sanitized vegetables could very well replace the need to sanitize the greens in-house. This technique also reduces the chances of over dosage of chlorine based sanitizer tablets used in most conventional produce washing processes. Creating working zones ensures seamless workflow, reduces chaos, and enhances cross-functional communication within the kitchen. Zones within the kitchen do not necessarily need to be visibly demarcated but they shouldn’t overlap with processes that could result in cross-contamination.
Food Waste Management
The emphasis needs to lie on not just conventional waste management but reducing food wastage as well. Although time and temperature remain the pivotal elements that dictate the shelf life of food, certain variables like portions and stock rotation could ensure that food wastage remains minimal. Having good contingency plans in case a refrigerator or freezer unit breaks down would prove to be beneficial.
Ideally speaking, pest control begins as the kitchen and other areas of the premises are being constructed. Access and exit points should be sealed off from pests’ entry and harborage. Choosing the right building materials would support IPM to a great extent. Electric fly killers work best when it’s positioned away from sources of bright light and for obvious food safety reasons, they must never be installed atop food preparation and processing areas. Certain food businesses feel that they need to install the fly killer “somewhere.” The UV lamps utilized in fly killers are designed to attract insects and installing a unit where insect activity never existed before might take a turn for the opposite. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Baits and traps, when utilized, should be installed based on the local environment and health regulations.
HVAC ensures a comfortable and safe work environment within the commercial kitchen. A good HVAC contractor would test for flue gases since combustion safety cannot be ignored—again, this goes back to being backed by a multi-disciplinary team during the initial phases of designing or renovating a commercial kitchen. That being said, installing a hood to extract fumes by itself does not entail a complete ventilation system. Depending on the nature of the food business, the equipment in use, and the bulk of food that is cooked, there are various regulations pertaining to kitchen ventilation systems. The general rule of thumb is vent hoods are coupled with fire suppression systems over most cooking equipment. Make-up air systems carry equal importance on the ventilation priority list and this can be competently designed provided the steam generating and heat generating units in the kitchen are considered.
It’s quite a fulfilling and satisfying experience to watch a restaurant, a café, or a retail space materialize from scratch. During the transition from “print to brick,” walking the plan during buildup helps identify areas of improvement and nip away potential gaps.
Sebastian is a registered (GCC and U.K.) food safety consultant, speaker, and trainer with Dubai-based food safety consultancy, Apex Food Consultants. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.