Top 10 Restaurant Food Safety Violations

From cross-contamination to improper handwashing, find out what the 10 most common food safety issues are in restaurant kitchens.

Cindy Rice

Cindy Rice


August 16, 2017

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Restaurants are subject to food safety violations—from bare-hand and cross-contamination to improper labeling and handwashing. Here are the top 10 food safety violations and ways to prevent or avoid them.

Violation 1: Improper Cooling of Cooked PHF/TCS Foods

Leaving hot stock pots out at room temperature or putting hot foods directly into walk-ins won’t allow foods to cool down quickly enough. In fact, warm or hot food items placed into a refrigerator may actually raise the temperature inside the unit and jeopardize the safety of other stored foods. Bacteria can grow to dangerous levels, and reheating food won’t kill enough bacteria or the toxins that some bacteria will produce.

Violation 2: Improper Handwashing

Hands can become contaminated when employees handle raw meat, use the restroom, or handle soiled tableware. Plus, all of us have Staphylococcus bacteria on our skin, which produces a toxin even in healthy people. Workers can also be sick or show no symptoms of illness. So, in all of these cases, workers can easily transfer harmful bacteria and viruses to foods.

Violation 3: Improper Cold Holding Temperatures

If Time and Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) foods—formerly called Potentially Hazardous Foods (PHF)—are exposed to the Temperature Danger Zone (41 to 135 degrees F) for extended periods of time or are left in the refrigerator past their expiration date, bacteria in these foods could cause foodborne illness.

Violation 4: Contaminated Food Contact Surfaces and Utensils

Dirty work surfaces, utensils, cutting boards, ice bucket and other kitchen tools can carry bacteria and other hazards, which can contaminate foods and other surfaces and cause foodborne illness. Also, bacteria can grow as they sit on these items over a period of time. Wiping cloths can also spread contaminants from surface to surface.

Violation 5: Improper Labeling of Ready-to-Eat, PHF/TCS Food Made On Site

Some bacteria will survive the preparation and cooking process, and they can multiply in foods over time, even in cooked foods stored in the refrigerator. After a certain time period, bacteria will have grown to dangerous levels and foods must be discarded. FDA Food Code states that if a TCS food is prepared on site and will not be used within 24 hours, it must be labeled with the use-by date.

Violation 6: Improper Labeling of Open Containers of Ready-to-Eat Commercially Prepared Foods

Cooking may not kill all bacteria in foods, and bacteria can also contaminate foods after opening, even in commercially processed foods from reputable suppliers. Bacteria can then grow in these foods over time, even in the refrigerator.

Violation 7: Hand Contamination of Ready-to-Eat Foods

The CDC reports that food handlers’ bare hands are the most common means of transmitting gastrointestinal viruses and bacteria to foods. People naturally have some bacteria— including Staphylococcus which makes a toxin—on their skin, nose, throat ad mouth as well as on cuts and sores. Food workers who are sick could also carry bacteria or viruses and transmit them to foods. Washing hands isn’t enough to protect foods from microorganisms that bare hands can carry, says the FDA. As such, bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods isn’t allowed in the 2013 FDA Food Code.

Violation 8: Raw Animal Foods Not Separated from Ready-to-Eat Foods

Raw animal foods may contain harmful bacteria or other hazards and are a potential source of cross contamination in any food operation, with risk of causing foodborne illness.

Violation 9: Improper Hot Holding Temperatures for PHF/TCS Foods

Holding hot TCS/PHF foods at proper temperatures is critical to preventing the growth of bacteria, which is present in these foods Some bacteria will survive the cooking process, and foods could also become contaminated during the holding stage.

Violation 10: Improper Reheating of Foods

Foods that have been cooked and cooled including leftovers could contain some bacteria because some will survive the cooking process. These bacteria could then have grown during the cooling process and cause illness. Reheating foods exposes them to the Temperature Danger Zone (41 to 135 degrees F), and reheating them too slowly, such as in a steam table or other holding equipment, causes bacteria in foods to multiply to dangerous levels by the time the foods are warm. Holding equipment is not usually designed to reheat foods quickly enough or to high enough temperatures to kill these bacteria to safe levels.

Food Safety Violations author, Cindy Rice, RS, CPFS, MSPH, CEHT is a Certified ServSafe® instructor with a BS in biology from Bates College, and a master’s of science degree in public health from University of Massachusetts.


  • Violation 1: FDA 2013 Food Code 3-501.13
  • Violation 2: FDA 2013 Food Code: 2-301
  • Violation 3: FDA 2013 Food Code 3-501
  • Violation 4: FDA 2013 Food Code 3-304.11, 4-602.11
  • Violation 5: FDA 2013 Food Code 3-501.17
  • Violation 6: FDA 2013 Food Code 3-501.17
  • Violation 7: FDA 2013 Food Code 3-301.11
  • Violation 8: FDA 2013 Food Code 3-302.11
  • Violation 9: FDA 2013 Food Code 3-501.16
  • Violation 10: FDA 2013 Food Code: 3-403.11

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