Serving Food - The Finish Line is in Sight! by Mark Barnes

When it comes to any type of food service operation, the end goal is to serve food to your guest. And as far as the “flow of food” is concerned, serving is the phase in a food service operation. This means it’s the last chance to visually inspect the food for appearance and quality, and most importantly, it’s our last chance to catch any potential food safety hazards before handing the food to the customer. Often during pre-service in my restaurants, I’ve stressed this fact to our servers and bartenders, “You are our last line of defense! You know how the food should look, don’t serve anything that doesn’t meet our standards.” While inspecting the final product is a very important task during serving, it is also imperative that our team takes the necessary steps to prevent the introduction of any hazards during this phase.
First though, let’s think about who actually “serves” food. Certainly, our service staff (i.e. servers, bartenders, food runners) could potentially serve food. In addition, a cafeteria employee dishing out portions would also be serving food. We could also say that cooks plating in the kitchen of a restaurant are “serving” food, although with a middle man, the server or food runner is also involved. So, to make it easy, let’s just say that “serving” begins with plating and ends when our customer is in possession of their food.
For me, the biggest issue here is that all of the food at this point is considered ready-to-eat (RTE - it won’t be washed or cooked any further) and all of the service-ware involved (i.e. plates, flatware, glassware etc.) are food contact surfaces, which are coming in contact with these RTE foods. The point here is that our cooks, food runners, servers etc. need to make sure to not contaminate any of these foods or food contact surfaces. So, no bare hand contact with any of these foods. Cooks should be wearing gloves if they need to touch the food (or use utensils without touching the food), and servers should NEVER bare hand touch plated food (i.e. push the french fries back into the middle of the plate or rearrange the bun etc.). These cooks and servers also need to take care not to have bare hand contact with any of the food contact surfaces. This means the top of the plate, top of the glass, business end of the utensil, etc. If the food or the customer’s mouth may touch the surface, then our bare hands should not.
One other note on serving utensils (i.e. tongs, serving spoons etc.). If an ingredient needs a utensil for dispensing, then it needs its own dedicated utensil. It’s so obvious that salad dressings on a pantry station need their own ladle - I’ve never seen a cook use the same ladle for ranch and 1000 island. But often on that same station, you’ll find the dry salad toppings (nuts, croutons, seeds, raisins etc.) with one or two mini spoons or tongs for nine or ten different ingredients. To prevent cross-contamination as well as allergen cross-contact issues, it is imperative that each individual item has its own dedicated utensil. Just like your prep tables and other food contact surfaces in the kitchen need to be cleaned and sanitized at a minimum of every four hours, those utensils do as well - so plan accordingly!
We’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and the finish line is in sight, focusing on these last few details to both inspect for and prevent the introduction of contamination will ensure that our customers are left happy and healthy!
This blog is not intended to be a substitute for the user's judgement and common sense. Any errors are unintentional. 

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