The National Restaurant Association named September “National Food Safety Education Month,” so right now is a perfect time to take stock of sound strategies and practices behind the bar. Food safety isn’t owned by the kitchen; detail-focused bar pros make safety a priority for themselves and their staff, setting up their bars and backbars for hygienic and worry-free handling and service. From clean glassware to avoiding cross-contamination and making sure fresh products are within their expiration dates, we asked some bar and restaurant owners to share the top tricks, tips and products that help them run safe and pristine bars.
“Treat your bar like a cook treats the kitchen — keep everything clean and orderly,” suggests H. Joseph Ehrmann, proprietor of San Francisco’s Elixir and one of the bar professionals who evaluates candidates during the practical exam portion of Pernod Ricard’s BarSmarts program. “Not only does it keep your work environment safe and hygienic, it creates a more comfortable and pleasing environment for your guests.” Ehrmann has several bits of useful advice to keep things clean behind the bar, such as keeping antibacterial soap near a hand sink to encourage bartenders to wash up frequently. “When handling so many people’s dirty glasses, it is easy to transfer bacteria, viruses and who knows what else.”
Ehrmann also recommends soaking plastic cutting boards in water mixed with a spoonful or two of bleach, which sanitizes and removes stains. For other bar tools and equipment, he likes to use biodegradable cleaners that also are non-toxic, such as those available from EcoLogic Solutions, whose E-6 Hand Dish Detergent is derived 100% from plants and is free from butyl and petroleum additives. It is high sudsing, with a light citrus scent and strong grease-cutting power.
Clean and sanitary glassware is a must in any bar. “We want our guests focused on what is ‘inside’ of the glass — our beer, wine and cocktails — not what may be ‘on’ the glass, including food, residue or spots,” explains Stephanie Shimp, vice president of marketing for the Blue Plate Restaurant Company. The St. Paul, Minn.-based company operates six individual restaurant concepts, which use Ecolab’s Apex rinse additives to ensure clean glasses — free from spots, cloudiness or caked-on bits of fresh herbs used in cocktails.
Speaking of glassware, Jim Meehan, bartender, author and partner at New York’s renowned cocktail bar PDT, suggests keeping a broken glass bin below the bar instead of simply discarding them in the trash or recycling. “I’ve seen a lot of bartenders and barbacks get injured pulling a bag full of broken glass out of a bin and taking it to the dumpster,” he points out.
More so than with restaurant kitchens (except those of the open-concept variety), bars and bartenders are constantly on display. “Most every bar I’ve been to you can see ‘everything’ behind the bar, every movement the bartender makes,” Shimp declares.
Patrons sitting at the bar like to watch staff pour, mix, shake, cut — and especially garnish. It’s imperative to use tongs, gloves or picks when reaching for garnishes rather than sticking potentially dirty fingers into lemon and lime bowls.
San Jamar offers a variety of garnish centers to keep drink toppers neat, tidy and dirt-free. The Dome is an all-in-one covered garnish center and the stainless-steel EZ-Chill Garnish Center features ice liners to use with ice packs or cubes. Use sharp knives for cutting fruits, vegetables and herbs, and discard unused garnishes on a regular basis; citrus and other fruits oxidize and spoil easily.
Other cocktail components are equally perishable.
“Remember ‘first in, first out’ when it comes to produce and syrups,” Ehrmann says. “Move the oldest items first in order to always keep anything from turning.”
He says tasting and testing fresh ingredients before serving them to guests is a must. Label and refrigerate syrups and infusions, and
remember that even simple syrup only has a shelf life of a week or two.