Hotel Food Safety Starts with the Refrigerator

Refrigerator Temperature Monitor

Most hotel and lodging properties’ bread-and-butter is not found in the kitchen, but in the bedroom. The hotel’s primary focus is keeping guestrooms and other common areas clean and in tip-top condition. However, in the past ten years or more, hotel guests have come to expect more, such as a free breakfast included in the night’s stay. While offering a complimentary breakfast is certainly not a money maker, hotels must think of what their competitors offer, and step-up to meet guest expectations.

Hotel properties, especially those that may not have served food before, must become very focused on ways to keep food safe to serve, whether it is stored in the refrigerator or a freezer. Some of the most effective ways to keep food safe include: rotating and labeling food; monitoring refrigerator and freezer temperatures; and cleaning and maintaining the refrigerator. It is essential that kitchen staff is also educated and aware of these issues in order to protect the health of hotel guests. The following are just a few items that hotels should consider when it comes to keeping food safe.

One of the best ways to ensure that served food is of the highest quality is to follow the FIFO rule: “First In, First Out.” While this is a common term, it is a bit confusing. It does not mean the first food delivered is the first to be served. Instead, it refers to an inventory control method. The new food items delivered are placed behind older food in the refrigerator so that older items are served first.

A more efficient option is to label food items with specifically designed “use by” dates as they are delivered. These dates are based on the food manufacturer’s recommendations along with best food safety practices. Placing “use-by” date labels on these items tells kitchen staff exactly which foods need to be used first based on the restaurant’s or hotel’s guidelines.


Another idea is to use “Day of the Week” labels on portion bags, containers, freezer boxes, and the like. If it’s Monday morning, use the food container label marked “Monday.” This simplifies food and product rotation.

Temperature Monitoring
In the United States, refrigerators in commercial kitchens should keep food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder and in the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Food storage units maintained at the right temperature can slow the growth of microorganisms such as Salmonella and E. coli. Note that this will only slow the growth; these microorganisms are typically killed by heat when cooked and not by cold.

However, the temperatures in a refrigerator or freezer can vary. Sometimes, if several food items are placed in the refrigerator at the same time, the inside temperature will become warmer. If the fridge is overstocked, if there is inadequate ventilation, or if there are electrical fluctuations or power outages, the temperature inside the refrigerator can change.

To address this issue, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests using refrigerator/freezer thermometers to monitor temperatures. Consumers can purchase these devices in the housewares section of department, appliance, culinary, and grocery stores. However, something much more sophisticated is needed for a commercial kitchen. Refrigerator/freezer monitoring systems are now available to continuously audit and log temperature settings and send out real-time notifications by email or text should temperatures go beyond predetermined parameters.

Cleaning the inside of the refrigerator/freezer is essential and should be put on a regular schedule. The frequency can be determined by how often they are used. In a commercial kitchen, staff often works very fast. It is not uncommon for items to spill or fall inside the refrigerator. By cleaning up these spills as they occur and cleaning the shelves, sides, and storage units of the refrigerator/freezer on an ongoing basis, kitchen staff can prevent more bacteria from developing and potentially coming in contact with food stored in the refrigerator.

Items stored at the bottom of the refrigerator/freezer must be kept in sealed containers. There is always the possibility that water, dust, or soils on the floor will find their way onto the lower portions of the unit.

It’s often a wise idea when selecting equipment for a commercial kitchen to work with distributors well-versed on food safety issues. Not only can they help operators select kitchen equipment that will best meet their needs, but also help them ensure the food they serve their guests is safe and of the highest quality.


Ed Sharek


About the Author
Edward Sharek is Category Manager of Facility-Employee Safety at DayMark Safety Systems, manufacturers of a wide variety of products for commercial kitchens designed to enhance food safety, personal safety, and facility safety. He can be reached at

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