Losing the ground war against food contamination

In the high-pressure environment of food service, lapses in hygiene make casualties of customers, reputations and even businesses. James White of Denis Rawlins Ltd focuses on a forgotten front in the war against food contamination where outdated methods abet the enemy.

Safeguarding food safety is a constant battle, requiring consistently high standards in processing and storage, personal hygiene, staff training and supervision, and cleaning.

One slip – not washing hands, under-cooking food, failing to chill it properly, cross-contaminating cooked ingredients via a surface or knife used for raw meat – and the consequences for customers and the business can be catastrophic. So in the heat of the kitchen, it’s not surprising if the surface that staff stand on is not seen as a major risk.

Yet the contaminants lurking beneath our feet can easily be transferred to hands and utensils. The risks from poorly cleaned floors are not so well appreciated. And this is where the battle against the ever-present threat of germs and pathogens can often be lost.

Kitchens generate greasy soils that coat floor surfaces. In this warm and damp environment bacteria multiply, especially in crevices and grout lines between tiles. Workers’ footwear also tracks dirt and invisible microbes from other areas, including toilets and washrooms, into cleaned areas. So, whether floors look clean or not, they can end up harbouring a stomach-churning mix of microbes.

Studies in the US and elsewhere have shown not only that floors can become reservoirs of health-threatening pathogens, but also how staff have many direct and indirect contact with floors every day. This could be tying a trailing shoe lace, picking up a dropped utensil, gathering an electrical cord from the floor, or lifting a carton of food that had been placed there.

It’s estimated that 70% of all floors in the UK are still mopped by hand, and that includes many kitchens as well as dining areas. The obvious problem with mopping is it spreads rather than removes soil. Even if cleaning solution and mop heads are changed frequently, mopping inevitably returns some of the soils to the floor. And a mop cannot be expected to dislodge dirt ingrained in crevices.

This whole process – mopping with a degreaser or bleach, and then rinsing with ‘clean’ water – is as laborious and time-consuming as it is ineffective. Moreover, in this constant war against germs, mopping is effectively aiding and abetting the enemy. Hence the Denis Rawlins campaign to Chop the Mop.

In kitchens, or any environment where hygiene matters, cleaning has to remove soil, leaving a sanitised surface. For floors, this means dispensing fresh cleaning solution and recovering the liquid along with soils, by suction or squeegee. Whether this is achieved mechanically by a scrubber dryer or other machine, it’s also essential the floor is left virtually dry and thus safe to walk on.

Food factories test work surfaces to check they’re not contaminated. We too advocate science-based cleaning, and have extended this to floors and touch points, including those in washrooms. Like the food industry, we use ATP meters to measure the universal (adenosine triphosphate) marker for animal, bacterial and mould cells. We test before and after cleaning to show how effective the process is. And we have researched the global market for cleaning equipment to identify the most hygienic and cost-effective methods.

We were impressed by a comparatively low-tech cleaning system that achieves very high standards. As a supplier of wide range of cleaning equipment, we were struck by how this modular system could match more sophisticated, and expensive, technology.

This was borne out by a three-way test by university scientists who compared manual microfibre mopping, a scrubber dryer and the OmniFlexTM system. Based on a patented trolley bucket, as components are added it can be configured to dispense and vac, spray and squeegee, or spray and vac.

The tests involved a solution of Escherichia coli (the E. coli organism responsible for many food poisoning outbreaks) with ‘before’ and ‘after’ measurements using ATP monitors and bacteria plates.

The microfibre mop at best removed less than 51% of the soil, but that dropped to 24% as the plates revealed how the mop dragged bacteria from dirty areas back into cleaner parts of the floor.

By contrast, more than 99% of the bacteria were removed by the scrubber dryer. Significantly, the same standard was achieved by the AutoVac – which is the OmniFlex unit with a drop-down squeegee head.

The Food Service Dispense and Vac uses the same technology as the AutoVac, is simple to use, even for kitchen or casual staff with minimal training. It has proven its effectiveness and productivity cleaning hard floors in the manufacturer Kaivac’s native US, becoming a staple floor cleaning machine in the food service sector.

Studies show the OmniflexTM Dispense and Vac is 30-60 times more effective than a mop and bucket. At least one fast food chain halved its cleaning time while achieving superior cleaning results for no more than its annual spend on mops and buckets.

Given our Chop the Mop mission this is compelling, as it means that food processors and outlets using traditional methods can save money while raising the standards of hygiene in their premises.

 

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