My friend and I recently had a behind the scenes tour of a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) kitchen. It was interesting to learn how the American fast food outlet chain that opened its doors in Kenya in 2011 goes through the processes of sourcing and processing to the point where the food lands on the customers’ tables.
The safety rules for getting into the kitchen were clear from the word go. We had to wear rubber soled shoes, keep our finger nails free of polish and be completely free of jewelry. We were also given disposable net caps at the door to cover our hair. The first stop we made at the very entrance to the kitchen was at a sink with soap and sanitizer dispensers. Other sinks and dispensers were placed strategically throughout the kitchen and we later came to learn that after every 30 minutes, a bell rings and everyone working in the kitchen has to go to the nearest and wash and disinfect their hands.
There are mouse traps at the entrance where KFC receives their supplies to guard against mice and other rodents entering the food storage areas. Supplies are received every week. As much as local KFCs get their key and as yet un-replicated secret ingredients and marinades from the US, their chicken comes from good old Kenchic, while vegetables come from a local supplier who meets the standards and quantity requirements of the food chain. Their suppliers are audited by Government food safety experts twice a year, or any time they feel the need to check standards.
Products are stored in different cold rooms depending on their refrigeration requirements. For example, blood products are stored separately from non blood as well as vegetables and products like soft serve for ice cream. The aim is to ensure zero cross-contamination of foodstuffs. Furthermore, there are designated areas where frozen food items are kept to thaw at recommend temperatures since they cannot be taken from the freezer to thaw directly at room temperatures.
Potatoes are imported from Egypt because locally there is nobody supplying large enough quantities of pre-cut pre-blanched frozen potato chips, which is what they use for all their outlets here. Locally, we’re yet to tap into the lucrative business that is potato value addition. However, this situation may change if Midlands Ltd makes good its plans to introduce a potato processing and storage plant in Kenya’s potato heartland – Nyandarua.
Once chicken leaves the thawing area, it heads for the marinating area where the distinguishing magic of KFC happens. Here, there are 2 tumbling drums, each of which is used for a different type of marinade. KFC’s policy is to cook less more often so that once for instance chicken is cooked, it does not stay on the shelves for any more than 2 hours. The same goes for all other food stuffs with slight changes in timings depending on the type. This ensures that fresh food is served to customers all the time. The kitchen staff however have their expertise, charts and timings to ensure that this policy is in place.
Cooking oils are tested in what is called a visibility test. This involves dipping a simple calibrated steel dipstick with marked depths starting from one to 20. If the oil is completely clear, the bottom end of the instrument can be seen even when dipped all the way down to reach 20. If the bottom of the instrument cannot be seen at point 5, the oil cannot be used again.
Just about everything in that kitchen is temperature controlled. Cleaning water, rinsing water, disinfecting water, upright holding cabinets, holding trays for draining cooked potato chips, everything. And of course the cold rooms for blood products and regular fridges for other products have specific temps.
That was the first time I was behind the scenes in any restaurant at all if you don’t count hell’s kitchen on TV. It was an interesting tour where a lot was learnt.