Page 5 - ServSafe Manager Study Guide for the ServSafe

Food Service

Holding and serving are steps in the flow of food where food must continue to be monitored for time-temperature abuse and cross-contamination.

Holding Food

Holding food (like on a buffet) puts foods at risk of time-temperature abuse if they are not kept out of the TDZ, and makes them vulnerable to cross-contamination if they are not properly protected. Procedures must be in place to minimize these risks.

General Guidelines

Risk minimizing procedures should include: covers/lids and sneeze guards, holding hot foods at 135°F or higher and cold foods at 41°F or lower, and checking food temperatures at least every 2 hours (to leave time for corrective action) with the proper thermometer inserted into the food. Discard foods that aren’t hot or cold enough unless they can be corrected, like hot TCS foods that are not hot enough being reheated. Do not reheat in hot-holding equipment. Reheat correctly before returning to holding.

Holding Without Temperature Control

Never hold foods without temperature control if you primarily serve high-risk customers. Only hold without temperature control when holding foods for a short time, or when the power is out. If holding foods without temperature control is necessary, like a catered event, there are conditions to keep them safe.

Cold Food

Cold foods can be held without temperature control for up to six hours if: proper preparation procedures were followed, the food has written procedures for use and has written approval from the local regulatory authority (that should be available upon request), the food was kept at 41°F or lower before holding, the food is labeled with a discard time that’s 6 hours from time of removal, and the food temperature never exceeds 70°F during service (discard if it does). Serve, sell, use, or discard cold food within 6 hours.

Hot Food

Hot foods can be held without temperature control for up to four hours if: the food was held at 135°F or higher, or the food is labeled with a discard time that’s 4 hours from time of removal. Serve, sell, use, or discard food within 4 hours.

Serving Food

At the serving step in the flow of food, foods are at highest risk for cross-contamination. Staff must understand how to handle foods correctly and safely in the kitchen, dining room, self-service areas (buffets), off-site locations (catering), and when using/stocking/maintaining vending machines.

Kitchen Staff

Staff should be trained to handle and serve food in specific ways to guard against contamination.

Contacting Food

Single-use gloves must be worn when making contact with RTE food, or staff must use tongs, spatulas, deli sheets, etc. to avoid contact with food.

Utensil Use

Separate foods require separate utensils, and they must be cleaned and sanitized after each task. Utensils used continuously must be cleaned and sanitized at least once every four hours. Utensils should be placed in food handles up, past the container rim. Non-TCS food utensils can be laid on a clean and sanitized food contact surface. Some spoons or scoops can be stored under running water or in a container of water kept at 135°F.

Takeout Containers

Some local authorities allow for the refilling of take-home containers brought by guests, if they: were designed for reuse, were given to the guest by the facility, and are properly cleaned and sanitized. Take-home drink containers (for the same guest) can be refilled with anything but a TCS food and must be: able to be effectively cleaned both at home and at the facility; rinsed with fresh, pressurized hot water before refilling; and refilled by staff using a contamination prevention process.

Service Staff

Servers have to be just as careful of spreading pathogens as kitchen staff and should follow specific service guidelines to minimize cross-contamination.


Plates must be held by the bottom or edge, glasses by the middle, stem, or bottom, and flatware by the handles. Never touch the food contact areas of these items. Carry glasses in a rack or tray, never stack and carry them. Never touch RTE foods with bare hands or use bare hands to get ice. Scoop ice with the designated scoop or tongs. Never use a glass as it may chip into the ice. Preset tables with wrapped or covered items only.

Re-Serving Food

Never re-serve one guest’s returned food to another guest. Protect condiments from contamination by serving them in original packaging or containers designed to prevent contamination. Never re-serve opened/used condiments, or combine leftover and fresh condiments. Discard all open portions of condiments, like butter, salsa, or ketchup. Never re-serve uneaten bread. Discard and prepare a fresh bread basket. Never reuse garnishes. Only re-serve packaged food that’s unopened and in nice condition.

Self-Service Areas

These areas need protection, like sneeze guards or display cases, and need labels on each item. Hot self-service (buffet) foods should be kept at 135°F or higher and cold foods should be kept at 41°F or lower. Most raw and RTE foods can’t be self-service, unless: the facility serves foods like sushi or raw shellfish, the self-service items will be immediately cooked and eaten (like a Mongolian bbq), or it’s raw, frozen, shell-on shrimp or lobster. Never allow guests to refill dirty plates and post signs stating such. Keep areas stocked with proper utensils like tongs, ladles, and deli sheets. Never use ice that’s keeping foods cold as an ingredient. Label all bulk foods where guests can see, unless: the product makes no health or nutrient claims, there are no required labeling laws, the food is made on site, or the food is made off site by the same facility management.

Off-Site Food Service

Food for catered events should be transported in insulated, food-grade containers that are leakproof. Use containers that can be held at appropriate temperatures. Label them with use-by date and time, and reheating and serving instructions. Internal temperatures should be taken. Delivery vehicles should be cleaned regularly, and use the shortest delivery routes and most efficient equipment when transporting. Catering sites should have adequate water, dishwashing, handwashing, prep, storage, and serving areas, and trash cans (kept away from food areas). Raw proteins (meat, poultry, seafood) should be stored away from RTE foods (salads).

Vending Machines

Food prepped for these machines should experience the same care as any food in any facility. Product shelf life should be checked daily via their code or use-by/expiration date. Discard expired foods or foods not sold within 7 days. TCS foods should be kept at 41°F or lower or 135°F or higher. Any food subject to time-temperature abuse should be discarded. Keep foods in their original containers. Wash and wrap any edible peel fresh fruits before placing them in vending machines.

Additional Terms and Concepts to Study:

Preventing Cross Contamination
Cleaning and Sanitizing

Systems of Food Safety Management

Everything learned thus far can be applied to a food safety management system. These are practices and procedures that identify risks and hazards in your facility and ways to control them in order to prevent foodborne illness. Food safety principles presented in this guide provide the basis of safety management. The types of management programs needed are listed below.

Types of Management Programs

There are many types of food service management programs. Here are some of them:

  • Personal hygiene program
  • Food safety training program
  • Supplier selection and specification program
  • Quality control and assurance program
  • Cleaning and sanitizing program
  • Standard operating procedures (SOPs)
  • Facility design and equipment maintenance program
  • Pest-control program

The Manager Is in Charge

Active Managerial Control is a proactive initiative to identify and actively control the risk factors along the flow of food that contribute to foodborne illness. The 5 common risks you’ve learned about are:

  1. Purchasing from an unsafe source
  2. Not cooking food properly
  3. Not holding food properly
  4. Using contaminated items
  5. Having poor personal hygiene

The FDA suggests using training programs, employing manager supervision, and incorporating your SOP to achieve active managerial control. A more complex food safety system is a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program to help anticipate the points along the flow of food where potential food safety risks could happen. Take these steps when implementing managerial control:

Identify risks—Locate the possible risks in your facility so they might be controlled or eliminated.

Monitor—Critical points along the flow of food should be monitored.

Corrective Action—Proper monitoring allows for corrective action to be taken if needed.

Oversight—Managers should verify that all policies, procedures, and corrective actions are followed.

Training—Staff should be trained and retrained on all policies, procedures, and corrective actions.

Re-evaluation—The system should be assessed from time to time to ensure it works correctly and effectively.

FDA Recommendations

The FDA’s public health interventions are designed to control common risk factors that lead to foodborne illness and protect public health. These specific recommendations are:

Knowledge—Be certified in food safety and demonstrate your knowledge.

Health—Ensure your staff have good personal hygiene and are required to report illnesses.

Hands/food handling—Bare-hand contact must be controlled when handling RTE foods.

Time and temperature—Hot held foods should be checked every 2 hours, and limit the foods’ time in the TDZ.

Consumer advisories—Provide a menu notice if you serve raw or undercooked foods that includes a statement about possible risks.


A Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program is a specific food safety management system based on identifying the biological, chemical, or physical hazards that might occur in your facility at specific points along the flow of food. Once identified, hazards can be prevented, reduced to safe levels, or even eliminated. Your unique HACCP plan must be specific to your menu, customers, staff, equipment, processes, and operations.

Additional Terms and Concepts to Study:

Causes of Unsafe Food
How People Can Help Keep Foods Safe
Personal Hygiene
Other Hand Concerns
Time and Temperature
Receiving Food
Food Storage
Thawing and Preparing Food
Cooking Food and Beyond
Preventing Cross Contamination
Cleaning and Sanitizing

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