Safety concerns: Independent catering and craft service

Anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows what a difficult job it is to run a kitchen. There are so many moving pieces that it only takes one small failure to bring everything to a halt. Everyone from the manager to the chef down to the busboy has to do his or her job well for the whole operation to go smoothly.

Now consider grabbing that hectic experience, cramming it into a portable kitchen and taking it on the road. It sounds like an extreme test of patience, planning and organization - but it's what independent caterers do every day. Not only must they deal with typical kitchen duties, they must also plan timetables around traffic, transport fresh ingredients and do it all before lunchtime.

Whether it's for an engagement party, business function or film set, caterers have a lot on their plates. And sometimes safety can get placed on the back burner. Here are some ways cooks on the move can get their work done and stay safe at the same time.

The business of catering
Becoming a freelance chef is a daunting task on its own. Not only does he or she have to develop his or her skills and move up the ranks in a traditional kitchen environment, but he or she has to then save up the money to buy or rent a portable kitchen, hire staff, order ingredients and find contracts for work. To the end user, hiring a caterer seems straightforward. You call up the company you want, pay the fees and enjoy the food. But the chef sees things differently.

Take craft service - the snacks and drinks served on a movie set - as an example. For many people in the film industry, it's craft service that helps everything run smoothly. The food table keeps everyone full and energized as well as provides a gathering place for people to hang out and relax between takes. According to National Public Radio, craft service can be responsible for feeding between 250 and 5,000 people, depending on the size of the set and the number of extras in a scene. That means getting up early in the morning and preparing everything for a long day of shooting - sometimes as long as 16 hours. Such a schedule can take a toll on the toughest people in the business, and it could lead to mistakes and safety concerns.

Catering safety best practices
Research done by Southern Health Board and Employment Health Advisors in Cork, Ireland, found that students at a catering school had high rates of injury compared with other courses. Cuts, lacerations and burns topped the list of safety concerns. Anyone who has seen a hectic kitchen would know why such incidents are common: A kitchen in motion is a whirl of food, fire and knives. One wrong move and a chef could slip and fall, spill boiling water or cut him or herself.

When working in a small, portable kitchen, the key thing to be concerned with is space management. Any projects that can be moved to another area, such as salad prep, should be moved away from the main kitchen. But that won't necessarily make the kitchen a calm place. There's still lots to do and there's never enough time to do it. Wearing slip-resistant shoes is one way that kitchen staff can stay safe. Slipping and falling in the kitchen could prove to be extremely dangerous, not to mention the fact that it could hold up the entire operation.

Catering for large numbers of people is an exercise in controlled chaos. It's never going to be a walk in the park, but with the right mindset, the proper safety equipment and good space-management skills, it can still be a great experience.


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