The great kitchen clean-up

7th of November 2018
The great kitchen clean-up
The great kitchen clean-up

The Japanese 5S principle is now universally recognised as a highly efficient way of running a production environment such as a factory or industrial workshop. But can similar principles be applied to the commercial kitchen, asks Lotta Skold of Tork manufacturer Essity?

The main priority in any food preparation business is to serve up attractive and tasty dishes to discerning diners. But when kitchen staff are in a hurry to achieve this goal it can lead to spills, mess, disorder, confusion – even lapses in hygiene.

And who is in charge of the big picture in a commercial kitchen? Offices have their managers; hospitals are run by administrators and industrial workshops are monitored by supervisors. But the kitchen is the domain of the head chef – and he or she will be much too busy ensuring that the food is of the highest possible standard to notice minor details such as when equipment happens to be in the wrong place.

These were the observations of a team from Essity when carrying out research for the company’s Tork kitchen wiping and cleaning product range.

“When we went into commercial kitchens our initial aim was to see what we could do to make life easier for chefs and other food preparation staff,” said Essity European assortment director Lotta Skold.

“We spent two years studying the kitchen environment in Germany, France and the UK. During that time we also talked to chefs, head chefs and purchasers. And what we discovered was that every country struggles with similar issues when it comes to kitchen flow.”

In an ideal scenario “kitchen flow” enables chefs to glide through the kitchen with ease, encountering the equipment they need when and where they need it. “Kitchens that have not been fully optimised may quickly become cluttered and disorganised,” said Skold. “But when everything is in the right place, catering staff are able to carry out their jobs efficiently – and this maximises profitability while reducing the stress levels of staff.”

The types of issues encountered by Skold’s kitchen research team mirrored those problems that were likely to occur in industrial environments before the 5S principle was widely adopted, she said. This principle – developed in Japan - uses five “S” words to describe how the industrial environment should be optimised.

These are: Sorting, or removing all but the most essential items from the workplace; Setting in order, or arranging equipment in such a way as to promote the most efficient workflow; “Shining”, or keeping the workplace clean and uncluttered; Standardising all work practices to keep them consistent; and Sustaining these procedures on a day-to-day basis.

Efficiency and productivity tend to be the main drivers when it comes to optimising an industrial workplace. But while both these factors are also crucial in the commercial kitchen, even higher up the list of priorities is the issue of hygiene.

“A kitchen that is cluttered and disorganised may not adhere to basic health and safety requirements – and these are of course fundamental to a restaurant’s survival,” said Skold. Indeed, her research team discovered that chefs were typically spending 20-30 per cent of their time cleaning their hands and surfaces at the same time as they were preparing food. And it was here that the problems with kitchen flow typically occurred.

Inaccessible products

“For example, we encountered empty paper towel dispensers and wiping products that were in the wrong place,” said Skold. “We also came across hand hygiene products that weren’t immediately accessible for staff which meant they had to take more time and effort to wash and dry their hands than they should have had to do.

“These are the types of issue that few people think about on a day-to-day basis. Kitchen wipes are a low involvement category and people become accustomed to the products they regularly use. They are not usually aware of what could be changed for the better until it is actually pointed out to them.”
Once Skold had identified the need for adopting a 5S-like approach in the kitchen she set about seeking expert help. This she found in the form of Alan Kinsella, a highly experienced chef who originates from Ireland and who now operates out of Scandinavia as a kitchen optimisation consultant.

“We approached Kinsella and told him about the Japanese 5S principle in industry, and he said: ‘That’s exactly what we need in the kitchen - it’s a perfect way to think. Let’s make it a process’,” says Skold.

Essity and Kinsella then set about finding a kitchen plagued with serious flow issues to test their theories. In March 2018 they found such a kitchen in Sweden and discussed the aims of the project with the chefs concerned, who quickly signed up to the idea. Essity and Kinsella then introduced a series of changes based on the 5S principles.

“We went in overnight and cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom,” said Skold. “We also identified those factors that were blurring the picture where hygiene and kitchen flow were concerned and altered the flow to make the premises run more smoothly.

“And we then ensured that wipers and hygiene products were positioned in optimum locations around the kitchen.”

Wiping and hygiene products act as a vital contribution to overcoming the daily challenges of a restaurant kitchen, according to Skold. “They ensure that staff don’t forget to clean their hands while also making the overall cleaning of surfaces and equipment easier, both during and at the end of the service,” she said.

The Swedish kitchen experiment was a huge success, adds Skold. “The day after our overnight makeover, two chefs were absent from work but the kitchen managed to retain the same standards and productivity levels as the day before,” she said. “Since the two absent chefs would have each worked an eight-hour shift this meant the kitchen actually saved 16 hours of productive time.”

Alan Kinsella has now issued his own flow guide to help kitchens following the optimisation model. The acronym CHEFS stands for Control, Hygiene and tools, Engineer, Finance and Systems.
The Control step involves the head chef gaining an overview of the current kitchen situation and equipping all staff with the optimum resources and environment to allow them to carry out their work.

Hygiene should be factored into every step of the process and products such as hand soaps and paper towels should be readily available at the entrance and exit of kitchens. These products should be placed at eye level to ensure they are not missed and to make it an ingrained habit for staff to use them.

Engineered and well-structured menus should be developed to meet customer expectations while creating as little stress for the chefs as possible, and Finances should be controlled to ensure that all cost targets are met. And these four steps should together form a System – one that needs to be repeated on a day-to-day basis.

This System stage can be a difficult nut to crack, admits Skold, since busy staff will inevitably be inclined to cut corners. However, follow-up visits to the kitchen involved in the makeover experiment revealed that the premises continues to operate more efficiently in general terms.

Generally more efficient

“The head chef says they have managed to keep to the changes we implemented, though some old habits are hard to break,” admits Skold. “Keeping the clutter away from surfaces and ensuring that fridges stay clean are both big challenges and we can’t influence those factors. It is up to
the operatives involved to find new ways of working.”

Alan Kinsella adds that the key challenge in any kitchen is finding a balance between making money and optimising efficiency. “We also have to make sure that hygiene standards are at the highest level,” he said. “Not only does this create a good flow which in turn gives staff new energy, it also means that the hygiene routine becomes embedded for kitchen staff.”

Time is precious during service hours which means restaurant kitchen staff need to be as prepared as possible – maybe even over-prepared - on a daily basis. But once factors such as flow, hygiene and efficiency are all in sync, staff will be able to operate efficiently while maintaining the highest standards of hygiene – and all without a second thought.


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