April 8, 2021
A ghost kitchen is a restaurant concept that gained popularity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic more people became accustomed to ordering food online and having food delivered to their homes. As a result, Ghost kitchens or virtual kitchens went from entrepreneurial ideas to thriving food hubs that bring the best restaurant meals to families through food delivery.
Virtual kitchens operate in smaller spaces with limited staff because they only prepare and fill online takeout orders. Virtual kitchens often partner with restaurants to handle their takeout orders, which means a restaurant can focus on serving dine-in customers. VK growth is exciting, but it brings some challenges, such as keeping food safe.
Preventing Foodborne Illness in a Ghost Kitchen
Food safety should be a priority in the virtual kitchen. The risk of food becoming contaminated exists any foodservice operation. Improper food handling, poor personal hygiene, and faulty equipment such as coolers and freezers can all play a role in food contamination. Virtual kitchens must have training programs and policies that help employees understand the importance of keeping food safe. Unsafe food can lead to foodborne illness, an illness transmitted to people by food. Foodborne illness can make customers sick and can be fatal. If a customer gets sick from food eaten from a virtual kitchen, the kitchen could be liable. However, safe food handling practices can help virtual kitchen staff keep food safe to eat.
Before employees start working in virtual kitchens, they should receive food safety training. Personal hygiene training should be high on the food safety training list. Poor personal hygiene when handling food is a leading cause of foodborne illness. For example, food preparation employees who fail to wash their hands after using the restroom, or after touching anything contaminated can make food unsafe to eat.
Bacteria and viruses on the hands can be transmitted to food easily. Employees need training on handwashing, the importance of wearing clean work clothes, and which illnesses require them to stay at home. With the pandemic, employees should also wear masks in public. Temperature checks when the employees arrive at work can help determine if they have COVID-19. Employees should understand that if they have been in contact with a family member or other person with COVID, they should not come to work until cleared by a doctor.
VK workspaces are typically smaller than most commercial kitchens, so food preparation may require staff to work in tight spaces. However, there are steps that virtual kitchen supervisors can take to ensure that employees handle food in ways that prevent cross-contamination. An example of cross-contamination is preparing raw meat and using the same cutting board to prepare vegetables without cleaning and sanitizing the cutting board first. Preparing meat or poultry on a prep table and failing to wash, rinse, and sanitize it before preparing other food on it is another way food becomes contaminated. Employees need training in how to clean and sanitize surfaces properly to prevent cross-contamination
Preventing Cross-Contact from Allergens
Ghost kitchen operators should also consider that some people who order food may have food allergies. Some people have mild allergies, but for others, being exposed to an allergen can lead to critical illness or death. The eight major food allergens of concern in foodservice establishments are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. When a food containing an allergen touches another cross-contact occurs. Preparing food for individuals with food allergies means using clean and sanitized utensils and making sure no allergens come in contact with the food being prepared. When a virtual kitchen features several food concepts, there is an increased chance of allergen cross-contact occurring.
Customers with food allergies may ask questions about specific foods when they order. If they ask about ingredients and preparation, there should be someone available who can answer those questions. When preparing orders for customers with allergens, restaurant employees should always keep the food separate from allergen-containing food when packing it to go.
Keep Equipment is in Good Working Condition
Coolers and other equipment can fail, and if that happens, food can become unsafe to eat. Coolers that do not keep food cold enough, holding equipment that does not keep food hot, and faulty thermometers can result in bacteria or other pathogens growing in food. It is essential to check equipment to make sure it works and can keep food at the correct temperature, whether the food needs to be hot or cold. Thermometers also need to be calibrated at the beginning of each shift. The source of water in an establishment should be in good working order, approved by the local regulatory authority, and be drinkable water, Drinkable water is the only acceptable water for handwashing, cleaning utensils and surfaces, prepping food, and cooking.
Make Sure Food Comes from Safe Sources
A virtual kitchen that partners with restaurants and merchants should communicate regularly with those food sources about food safety. There should be policies regarding the quality of the foods that the ghost kitchen will accept and how partners address food safety issues.
Make Sure That Delivery Partners Handle and Transport Food Safely
Once the food leaves the operation, it is vital to know that the delivery person will handle it safely. Containers that hold food for delivery should be able to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Delivery containers should be clean and free of anything that could contaminate food or cause cross-contact from allergens. Delivery drivers should always wear clean attire, and their vehicles should be clean inside and clear of clutter or unnecessary items. If a delivery driver handles food in a way that causes foodborne illness, a customer is likely to blame the virtual kitchen.
Make Time for Good Food Safety Practices
Training staff in food safety protocols requires careful scheduling. Monitoring to determine if employees are handling food takes time. Chefs and foodservice supervisors have multiple responsibilities, including billing, inventory, tracking sales, and other administrative tasks. One resource that can be helpful is VK SaaS or Software as a Service. VK SaaS can help a ghost kitchen operator save time because it is cloud-based and can run on a tablet or laptop. Being cloud-based makes the software convenient to access throughout the operation. Subscribing to cloud-based software allows virtual kitchen operators to get regular updates that promote accurate recordkeeping and track data for planning and running the business efficiently. VK SaaS is beneficial when virtual kitchens have multiple brands or concepts.
A virtual restaurant is, effectively, a restaurant kitchen that doesn't offer dine-in service. Also called ghost kitchens, these venues simply offer take-away food that they promote with their online storefront and menu. As more and more of these restaurants open shop, the need for traditional brick-and-mortar eateries to be online is absolute.
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