Starting A Ghost Kitchen? These 5 Food Safety Rules Are Non-Negotiable

Food safety is paramount in any kitchen, but when it comes to ghost kitchens and shared commercial kitchens, specific guidance can be hard to find. Next to well-regulated brick-and-mortar restaurants, the evolving ghost kitchen realm can feel like the wild west.

With people coming and going and different parties sharing equipment, it’s difficult to stay in control. But if an outbreak of foodborne illness occurs, there’s only one party responsible. 

If you run out of a ghost kitchen, you are ultimately responsible for the safety of all the food produced, so it’s vital to put strategic food safety systems in place. 

This article will lay out the fundamentals to help you run your kitchen with confidence. We’ll cover:

  • A brief comparison of ghost, dark, and cloud kitchens (+ virtual restaurants) 
  • The 5 golden rules of ghost kitchen food safety
  • Practical tips for creating reliable systems that boost compliance and confidence

You’ll finish reading with all the knowledge you need to minimize the risk of a food safety breach. But before we get into the rules, let’s take a quick recap of what exactly we mean when we say “ghost kitchen”.

What is a Ghost Kitchen? What’s the Difference Between a Cloud Kitchen, a Dark Kitchen, and a Virtual Restaurant?

Ghost kitchens are production units purpose-built to manage online orders and produce food specifically for delivery. Overheads are generally lower as there is no front-of-house staff or dining area and you can utilize cheaper locations away from high-cost areas. Ghost kitchens are generally optimized to maximize efficiency. 

Ghost kitchens are also referred to as cloud kitchens, virtual kitchens, or dark kitchens, and fall into two main categories: 

  • Ghost kitchens operated by one food business as delivery-optimized production hubs that house one or more virtual restaurant brands. The virtual restaurants are created to specifically satisfy the demand for takeout in the area. 
  • Shared ghost kitchens that can be rented out by several tenants operating separately. The kitchen is managed by a third-party and resources are shared to reduce overheads for each tenant.

Virtual restaurants are individual food brands that are created purely for delivery that operate from within a ghost kitchen.

Whether you find yourself operating your own ghost kitchen, or you run a shared space, you are responsible for ensuring the safety of the food produced. You must have the correct procedures in place to minimize the risk of food-borne illness.

Stay on top of the fundamentals of ghost kitchen food safety with these five non-negotiable rules.

Also Read: The Ultimate Guide to Digital Food Safety

The 5 Golden Rules of Ghost Kitchen Food Safety
Rule 1: You Own Food Safety, Not the Delivery Apps

If the worst was to happen, and an outbreak of food-borne illness was tied back to your kitchen, don’t expect your delivery partners to step up and shoulder the responsibility, let alone share it. 

One study showed that, while customers “co-blame” both restaurants and delivery apps, only one of those two parties suffers from negative reviews—the restaurant. Delivery apps face next to zero risk when it comes to food safety failures.

If anyone gets blamed for illness, it’s you. The ghost kitchen operator is liable. You must take command—don’t leave it up to chance.

We strongly suggest being proactive to do everything you can to minimize the risk. Put in the right precautions and procedures, and document everything so that you can show that you have done everything in your power to prevent an outbreak.

For digital-native food delivery concepts, digital food safety is making it a lot easier for staff to follow procedures and stay on top of food safety. More on that later.

Rule 2: Protect Yourself with Robust Delivery Packaging

You can’t control that 25% of delivery drivers have stolen food from your customers, but you can make sure the packaging is as tamper-proof as possible.

Make sure everything is sealed to ensure nothing can get into the food—like pathogens, foreign objects, or wandering hands! 

It’s also important to make sure food-safe temperatures are maintained (this makes it easy). Hot items should arrive piping hot, and cold items should arrive fridge-cold. For reference, foods should always be stored and received at the following temperatures:

  • Hot Food: 135°F (57° C) or higher
  • Cold Food: 41°F (5° C) or lower
  • Frozen Food: Delivered in a frozen solid state
what temperature to store hot, cold, and frozen foods

Beyond safe temperatures, these are our other food delivery safety must-haves:

  • Invest in quality materials. Sturdy and sustainable packaging is becoming easier to find. It’s more reliable than low-fi paper bags, and is less likely to permit incoming foreign objects.
  • Use tight-fitting lids. Tape them down if necessary. Spilled liquid isn’t only a bad customer experience, but a food safety hazard.
  • Seal all containers and bags. Use branded, tamper-proof stickers to seal bags to boost customer confidence (and deter unethical drivers).
  • Provide insulated food bags. This will help your food arrive just as intended.
  • Practice good communication with drivers. Both in-house and third-party drivers spend a lot of time away from your guidance and watchful eye—treat them respectfully so they’ll maintain high standards for you when they’re miles away.
  • Use multiple bags. Package food into plastic bags and place each bag into a larger, outer bag. A single layer between your customer’s hot burger and a passenger’s seat of questionable cleanliness isn’t a safe bet.

Follow these guidelines, and you’re equipped to provide a safe and enjoyable experience when customers receive their food.

Rule 3: Make Proper Food Storage a Priority

Ghost kitchens are designed with unique features that often make proper food storage even more important than in the typical restaurant setting:

  • Virtual restaurants often serve limited menus optimized for efficiency. Bulk quantities of select ingredients and pre-prepared foods need to be stored safely, so put systems in place to make sure your team keeps up with “first in, first out” and frequent spoilage checks—pencil whipping can have major consequences.
  • Many different tenants may share walk-in refrigerators and dry stores. Storing large quantities of ready-to-eat foods creates the perfect environment for pests. Food must be clearly labeled, stored, and packaged correctly. Be watchful that your neighbors do not accidentally create hazards among your ingredients and workspace.
  • Delivery-only concepts often will have larger quantities of ready-to-eat foods out of the fridge during service. This creates problems with temperature and the risk of attracting pests. Proper rotation and frequent temperature checks are vital to ensure these foods are safe to eat and at their best throughout service. 

We suggest using an automatic temperature monitoring system to take away the guesswork and ensure all food—both ingredients stored in the refrigerator or a delivery order waiting under the heat lamp—is kept at the proper temperature.

Rule 4: Create Separate Production Areas to Avoid Cross-Contamination

Prep space is often at a premium, especially in a shared kitchen, but one area not to compromise on is keeping prep areas for different types of food separate to minimize cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is the transfer of pathogens from one person, piece of equipment, or piece of food to another.

You could have all the safety precautions in place for safely dealing with raw meat but if harmful bacteria gets into the prepared salad, it’s game over.

Cross-contamination is the biggest cause of food safety issues and should therefore be one of your biggest priorities. Best practice is to prepare meat and fish in a totally separate area from ready-to-eat foods like cooked meat and fish, deli items, salads, fruit and veg, bread, and dairy. 

This concept also extends to different tenants in a shared kitchen. Keeping separate prep, storage, and serving areas for each tenant minimizes the risk of harmful bacteria crossing between tenants’ food and promotes accountability.

Also Read: 3 Common Reasons Restaurants Fail Inspection

Rule 5: Stay On Top of Temperature Logging

Fridge temperature monitoring is both one of the most important and the most neglected food safety measures. 

Fridges and freezers rarely break down, but when they do it is a serious problem. Even a minor failure can lead to spoilage and unsafe food. 

You could be losing thousands of dollars worth of ingredients, or worse, creating a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

a broken fridge costs money and puts food at risk

The traditional method of keeping track of fridge and freezer temperatures is to record the temperatures several times a day in a paper logbook. Most kitchens have digital thermometers that sit in the fridges so the chefs can quickly look in and note the temp. 

Paper logbooks in kitchens get dirty and greasy. They are often stored away in awkward places where they can’t be easily located. That’s the last thing the health inspector wants to see.

In reality, thermometers can get stuck behind ingredients, record inaccurate temps in cool or hotspots, and are often ignored. A big problem with paper logbooks is the practice pencil whipping, where chefs quickly check-off checklists, or make up temperatures. This means you won’t know if your fridge or freezer is experiencing fluctuations, or operating at the wrong temperature.

Real-time, automatic temperature logging is the best way to make sure your fridges are operating safely. Temperatures are logged constantly and sent straight to the central system. Managers are automatically alerted to anomalies and fluctuations so they can take action.

Run Your Ghost Kitchen with Confidence Using Digital Food Safety Tools

Follow these five golden rules and you’ll be well on your way to confidence in ghost kitchen food safety. To make following them easier, we built a suite of digital food safety tools that take the guessing out of compliance, and leverage real-time data to ensure everything’s up to code.

Digital checklists, real-time temperature monitoring, and automated safety alerts help your kitchen managers and cooks establish reliable routines that are easy to stick to. 

Leaving them with more time and energy to focus on delivering an outstanding product. Find out more about Squadle’s digital food safety tools and take control of food safety at your ghost kitchen from the start. 

👉 Master and semi-automate your ghost kitchen food safety program with Squadle.