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How Should Food be Handled and Stored in a Restaurant or Hotel Kitchen | SOP


Food handling and storage in a restaurant or hotel kitchen is extremely important in order to maintain maximum hygiene and safety standards. 

All food items have recommended storage procedures that include temperature, shelf life and place of storage.

Food items that you need to know how to store may include:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • eggs
  • bread items
  • cakes and biscuits
  • dairy items
  • dry goods.

The three main types of storage are:

  • dry storage
  • refrigerated storage
  • freezer storage.


Dry Storage

Dry storage is recommended for those products that are best kept at room temperature (10° – 20°C) and have a long shelf life. This includes:

  • preserved or dry goods.
  • canned, bottled, bagged or boxed items, cakes and biscuits.

Important points

  • Make sure that dry stores are kept clean and free of garbage and food scraps.
  • Make sure that all products are raised above floor level and stored on suitable shelving.
  • The storage area should be well ventilated to allow air circulation for removal of odours and have adequate lighting. It is recommended that these areas not be subject to direct sunlight.
  • Apply stock rotation techniques, using old stock first.
  • Chemicals should not be kept in food storage areas.

Refrigerated Storage

Food items stored in refrigerated conditions generally have a short shelf life and are highly perishable. All food items should be kept between
0 – 5°C. Temperatures outside this range encourage food spoilage and high bacteria growth, leading to possible food poisoning outbreaks.

Meats, seafoods, dairy products, poultry, eggs, cooked or prepared foods, chilled foods, vegetables and some fruits should be refrigerated.

Important points

  • Refrigerators should be cleaned and sanitised on a regular basis.
  • Maintain correct temperature by using internal thermometer to cross check temperature.
  • Place all products above floor level on suitable shelving to allow air to circulate and cool all products.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by providing item-specific storage areas, e.g. dairy section, raw meat section, seafood section.
  • Food should be cooled as rapidly as possible to prevent food spoilage before being refrigerated.
  • Label and date all food items to aid in correct stock rotation.
  • Always observe use by dates.

Freezer Storage

  • Highly perishable and short shelf life food products can be stored in a freezer to extend their shelf life.
  • Freezers should be kept at a temperature of minus 18°C or below. Meat, poultry, seafood and cooked or prepared foods can be frozen.
  • Items stored in paper, cardboard or tins should not be stored in a freezer, because defrosting will cause paper products to breakdown and become soggy and tins to corrode.

Important Points

  • Freezers should be cleaned and sanitised on a regular basis.
  • Maintain correct temperature of freezers. Use thermometers to cross check operating temperature.
  • All food items should be adequately chilled prior to freezing.
  • All items should be completely covered or wrapped in cling wrap so as to prevent ‘freezer burn’. Freezer burn is when temperatures below zero draw moisture out of exposed or incorrectly wrapped items. This causes food spoilage.
  • Label and date all products to be frozen.
  • Apply stock rotation to all products stored this way.


How long can frozen items be kept before they spoil?

  • Frozen meats will not keep indefinitely.
  • Beef will keep 9–12 months at -18°C.
  • Veal & Lamb will keep for 6 months at -18°C.
  • Poultry will keep for 4–6 months at -18°C.
  • Pork will keep for 4 months at -18°C.
  • Thaw frozen meat carefully under refrigeration.
  • Frozen poultry should be tightly wrapped in cling wrap and stored at -18°C.
  • Frozen fish should be tightly and individually wrapped and stored at -18°C.
  • Never freeze spoiling meat, poultry or seafood. You should tell your supervisor and dispose of such damaged food items.
  • Do not freeze fresh fruit. This destroys the fruit by causing the flesh to swell and become mushy and inedible once thawed.


Using stored items

  • The Stock Rotation System (First In – First Out) should be used for stored food. This involves the following steps.
  • Mark a date on all newly received goods.
  • Goods that are received into stock must be packed behind or underneath stock items already in stock. This is to ensure that older stock is used first.
  • Pack all stock above floor level to reduce the likelihood of pest infestation.
  • The purpose of this system is to make sure that no stock is ever allowed to spoil. Spoiled stock is wasted stock. Waste means higher costs and lower profits.

Handling food properly to avoid damage


Food items should be handled carefully. Improper handling of raw and cooked foodstuffs is the major cause of food poisoning. Packaging helps to protect items from other sources of contamination such as dust, dirt, foreign objects and excessive handling.

Packaging includes:


bottles or jars



bags or sacks


Care must be taken at all times to make sure that all packaging remains undamaged when both moving and storing.

Receiving of Goods

On receival of goods a check must be made to make sure that the product is of high quality. Never accept goods that do not meet the standards of your business requirements.

You will need to check the following.

  • No visible damage to packaging of cans, packets, bags, boxes and bottles.
  • Temperature checks will need to be taken to make sure the product has been maintained at correct temperature, e.g. Milk 1° – 4°C, Seafood 1°C, Meat and Poultry 1° – 5°C.
  • When receiving frozen products, check goods are still frozen. Look for signs of defrosting, e.g. excess water in plastic packaging around chicken, and no visible damage from freezer burn.
  • Check fruit and vegetables on arrival for signs of ageing and insect damage.
  • Make sure that what you have ordered is what you receive, i.e. exact quantities – use scales to weigh items delivered.

Important points to remember when handling food

  • Wash hands after visiting the toilet, dealing with money, coughing, sneezing, smoking, touching any part of the body, and when in contact with different food products to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Use food handling gloves whenever possible.
  • Do not over handle food.
  • Extreme care must be taken when receiving goods to make sure they remain in peak condition, e.g. bruising of fruit and vegetables, damaged packages and dented cans.
  • Never lift heavy objects without assistance from others, or use a lifting device such as a trolley or forklift.

Correct Lifting Technique



Thawing frozen food correctly

  • Always wash hands before and after handling food.
  • Place frozen food on a clean tray to help prevent contact with un-sterile surfaces.
  • Defrost frozen food items in the refrigerator.
  • Microwave ovens can be used to defrost small quantities of frozen food.
  • Never defrost frozen food at room temperature (e.g. on bench top) as this can promote growth of dangerous bacteria.
  • Allow plenty of time for thawing. Defrosting correctly in refrigerators can take up to 2 days. Always consider this point when menu planning.


Keeping storage areas clean, tidy and free from refuse

It is very important that storage areas are kept clean, tidy and free from refuse. Preventing the contamination of food products in storage areas depends on how well the area is kept clean and how they are stored. Control vermin and pests by not leaving any material that they can eat or breed in around the area. The pests most frequently attracted to food storage areas are flies, cockroaches, mice, rats and ants.

  • Floors of storage areas must be swept and then mopped at least once a day using hot soapy water (detergent and sanitiser).
  • Any refuse like vegetable off cuts, empty boxes and packaging material should be removed immediately from shelves and floors. This also helps prevent workplace accidents and the occurrence of pests and vermin.
  • All spillages and breakages no matter what the size should be cleared or cleaned immediately.


Securing storage areas from unauthorised access

  • Storage areas should be locked at all times.
  • One person within the kitchen should have sole responsibility for the keys.
  • The stores person at the beginning of a shift issues all daily stock requirements. If additional stock items are required, the supervisor or person responsible for the keys will open the store.

Safety is always a major concern in the work place. The fewer people are allowed access to an area, the less chance there is of an accident occurring.

Time is wasted in the retrieval of stock from storage areas located outside of the kitchen. Plan your orders carefully and pick up all goods at the one time.

Costs associated with missing products can be eliminated with a secured storage area.

Hygiene is a major concern when working with food. Only trained food handlers should be called upon to remove food products from these areas.

Reporting unexpected situations

Reporting Injuries

  • Evaluate the situation and administer first aid.
  • Call for help. When telephoning, make sure you give accurate details.
  • Call the supervisor to the scene of the accident.
  • Check to see if there are any remaining hazards.
  • Do not move the victim unless their life is in danger.
  • Make sure the accident is recorded in the kitchen accident register.


Equipment Failure

  • Equipment failure, such as fridges and freezers that stop working or are operate ineffectively, can result in high costs through food spoilage.
  • Contact your supervisor immediately.
  • Record the incident in the maintenance record book.


Damaged Stock

  • Report damaged stock to your supervisor immediately.
  • If damaged stock is part of a delivery, request permission to send it back to the supplier.
  • If damaged goods are returned to the supplier, make sure a credit note is issued.

Important Restaurant Food Storage Safety Tips You Need to Remember

  • Food safety starts with you
  • Remember FIFO – First-in-first-out
  • Keep your storage dry and dark
  • Monitor your storage temperatures. They are important
  • Store based on cooking temperatures
  • Label and monitor your food in the storage
  • Monitor your suppliers closely
  • Avoid overstocking
  • Stop buy slow moving items
  • Daily and weekly checks are a must
  • Prevent cross-contamination when cooking
  • Train all your kitchen staff on food handling


Are you in the food industry? Are you running a kitchen in a restaurant or hotel? Did you find this article helpful? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment below.


Kindest Regards,


Sam Nkwanyane

Hospitality Coach • Speaker • Consultant