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.
Bartenders at Blue Plate Restaurant Company are always on display, underscoring the need to use tongs, picks or gloves to reach for garnishes.
Beer taps also pose safety challenges. The buildup of bacteria, mold and yeast in a beer line can cause overly foamy brews and affect a beer’s taste and quality. Lines need to be cleaned regularly to avoid contamination. In Washington, D.C., Greg Engert, beer director of Birch and Barley as well as ChurchKey, 2011 Nightclub & Bar Beer Bar of the Year winner, does a full cleaning of the 50 draft lines twice a month and fully cleans each line as brands are rotated. The five cask ale lines are replaced monthly to ensure perfect cleanliness. “Cask ales are always unfiltered and unpasteurized, so the possibility of infection is much greater,” Engert says.
Several vendors offer tools and systems to assist in keeping draft beer taps and lines clean, including MicroMatic, TapDynamics, Perlick and others, such as San Jamar, whose new Kleen-Plug protects taps from fruit flies and other contamination when not in use and eliminates the need to wrap beer taps overnight.
In the end, safety behind the bar is all about providing an enjoyable and worry-free experience for guests. As Shimp puts it, “We want them engaged with our staff, soaking up the ambiance and hospitality and savoring their meal, not worried about whether or not we washed the lemons or put our hands in dirty glassware and then made their drink without washing our hands.” Safety and attention to detail demonstrate that service is a priority for operators. NCB
The Dirty Dozen
Ed Sherwin, a Maryland-based food-safety trainer and president of Ed Sherwin Food Safety, shares 12 of the most common food safety issues he encounters behind the bar:
• Be aware of expiration dates for fresh drink ingredients, such as juices, half & half and eggs. Sherwin recommends powdered eggs or egg whites, which don’t contain the same pathogens as egg yolks.
• Keep coolers set at 41EF or lower. If the temperature is set higher than that, food and drinks are at risk.
• Make sure that the sanitizing ingredient does not get depleted from mechanical glass washers. Otherwise, you are just “washing” glasses with water.
• Bartenders need to wash their hands just as often as chefs.
• Do not use direct hand contact when cutting fruit and garnishing — use gloves or tongs.
• Fruit needs to be thoroughly washed before using it in drinks or you run the risk of including pesticides, fertilizer, dirt and bacteria in guests’ drinks.
• Make sure that cutting boards, knives, shakers and other equipment are thoroughly washed, and avoid cross-contamination.
• Don’t use drink glasses to ladle ice; use a bar scoop. Drink glasses can break inside the ice bin or transfer germs to the ice.
• Clean the nozzles and diffusers for soda guns often, as they tend to get slimy and disgusting easily.
• Watch for fruit flies, which are attracted to the yeast in beer and fresh fruit.
• Clean glass chillers regularly. Sherwin often sees chillers filled with shards of broken glass, as well as mold that has formed from water dripping from wet glasses.
• Bar snacks should be served in individual dishes. That communal bowl of nuts or snack mix into which multiple guests are reaching may be filled with germs.