As warmer weather and summer travel swing into full force, so do cases of foodborne illness, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The busy summer travel season can make it difficult for restaurant kitchen staff members to keep up with the many details of food safety. A slip up in this area can compromise the health of customers, which in turn can lead to a big hit on a restaurant’s bottom line.

"Maintaining a sanitary environment, in both production and service of foods, is key to protecting the health of guests," said Chef Steve Browe of Paul’s 5th Avenue in Grandview Heights, Ohio, just west of downtown Columbus. "A foodborne illness outbreak is the deepest nightmare of a restaurant operator. Ultimately, an outbreak can ruin a business, first by reducing the daily number of people who frequent the operation, and in time, by building a negative general impression through word of mouth."

The first line of defense in preventing the spread of illness is hand- washing, and according to the USDA, unwashed hands are a primary cause of foodborne illness outbreaks. For that reason, restaurant workers should wash their hands frequently throughout the day and immediately after handling raw foods.

It’s also important to keep raw and cooked foods separated. This means using different cutting boards and utensils for cooked and raw foods during the preparation process and making sure to clean preparation surfaces after every use. Foods also should be stored properly, at the right temperature and in food-grade packages and containers.

Finally, cleaning and sanitization of dishes, preparation surfaces and even floors can help prevent the spread of disease. When washing plates and utensils, it’s important to use hot water in the cleaning sink, ideally around 120 degrees Fahrenheit to break up baked-on food particles and melt dried grease. However, it’s also important to use a dish detergent and degreasing products around the kitchen to break down tough grease and clean effectively.