Hygiene in food preparation - being seen to be clean

12th of July 2019
Hygiene in food preparation - being seen to be clean

Many of today’s restaurants have an open-plan kitchen or viewing window, which means it is vital that the premises display a clean and orderly appearance. Ann Laffeaty finds out how kitchens should be organised and equipped to help them achieve this.

There used to be a clear demarcation line between the kitchen and restaurant in eating establishments. Unruffled waiters would glide through the dining area, calmly greeting customers and serving them with beautifully-crafted dishes.

And if those dishes had been handed to them by a sweaty chef who had just bawled out his sous-chef for dropping the garnish on the floor, the diner would be none the wiser. However, today’s restaurants have changed this picture.

“There has been a growing trend towards providing the end-user with transparency about the whole experience – from the origin of the ingredients to the cooking process,” said Essity’s horeca marketing director Hanneke Kuipers. “Open kitchens are becoming more common and it is now just as relevant to create an impression of being clean, hygienic and well-ordered as it is to keep food preparation areas clean for legislation reasons.”

She says it is also helpful for staff to keep the kitchen uncluttered and well-ordered. “Staff are under increasing pressure in terms of timings, outcome and food quality and a good working environment will help to motivate them and make their job easier,” said Kuipers.

Accessibility to hygiene products is essential because it creates a good routine and structure, she adds. “Investing in quality hygiene solutions and placing them in well-positioned locations around the kitchen is crucial to promote efficiency in the kitchen,” she said. “Maintaining great hygiene standards means the routine becomes embedded.”

Paper towels and soaps should be readily available at the entrance and exit of the kitchen and also at every wash station, according to Kuipers. “These should be placed at eye level to ensure that they’re not missed,” she said. “It will then become a habit to use them.”

She also advocates the use of colour coded cloths to create order and reduce the risk of cross-contamination. “For example, you could use one colour cloth on vegetable chopping boards and other colours for equipment to be used with poultry and meat,” she said. Essity offers Tork Colour Coded Cleaning Cloths along with a range of hand hygiene and surface wiping products such as Tork Reflex for use in the kitchen.

Open kitchens more common

IPC communications director Gabriella Bianco agrees that open kitchens are becoming increasingly common. “Today’s customers are becoming keener than ever to know where and how their food is being prepared,” she said. “Providing transparency adds value for the facility, which means keeping the area clean and well-ordered should be a top priority in order to avoid creating a negative impression on the client. Providing evidence that the area is clean is a must if customers are to be retained.”

There are other key reasons why a kitchen should be seen to be clean, according to Bianco. “Hygiene inspectors can be very strict when checking the state of the kitchen along with maintenance, equipment and storage processes - and it is important to comply with the law,” she said.

“Furthermore, order and cleanliness can improve productivity since it will make it easier for staff to find the equipment they need.

“And organic contaminants tend to collect in recesses, and this could have dangerous results for the customers’ well-being. If the kitchen were filthy, food would be vector for bacteria and a potential carrier of diseases.”

She says steam cleaners work particularly well in kitchens since they may be used without the addition of chemicals or detergents. The IPC SG-08 and SG-10 operates at a steam temperature of 160°C and at a pressure of up to six bars.

Vice-president of Metsä Tissue UK & Ireland Mark Dewick believes the appearance of a kitchen can spell the difference between success and failure. “Most restaurants have their kitchen on show as a ‘feature’ these days and actively invite inspection by suppliers, customers and officials,” he said. “So a messy kitchen can seriously reduce the likelihood of customers returning. Conversely, a beautifully clean kitchen will encourage returning visitors along with recommendations and referrals.”

While it is paramount that hygiene legislation be closely followed, the impression created by a kitchen is also important, he says. “A messy or untidy kitchen will give the impression of non-compliance even if it doesn’t actually break any rules,” said Dewick. ”Meanwhile, unwiped spills could generate germs and contamination. Cross-contamination can be a particularly serious issue in terms of allergies: gluten products that are spilled and not wiped up will contaminate a gluten-free preparation environment, for example.

“And grease can easily build up in a kitchen environment  - and this is simply a fire waiting to happen since it would only take a single spark or flame to set grease ablaze.” He adds that a disordered kitchen could damage a restaurant’s brand. “Even worse, you could be held accountable
for a failure in some way, such as in a recent example in the news whereby peanut oil in a curry resulting in the death of a customer.”

Metsä’s Katrin Master range of non-woven wipers are claimed to work well in a kitchen environment since they are silicone-free, food safe and solvent-resistant, according to Dewick.

Hygiene, cleanliness and tidiness are all related issues according to Kärcher trainer Klaas-Matti Nolte. “Hygiene and efficiency will suffer in an untidy kitchen, particularly if there is no clear distinction between clean and unclean areas,” he said. “Occupational safety also plays a role: a dirty, greasy floor can become very slippery even with the use of safety tiles - and this will become a risk for staff.”

Steam cleaners

According to Nolte, kitchen tiles and stainless steel surfaces should be cleaned using high pressure cleaners at the end of the working day. “Alternating between acidic and alkaline foam cleaning products is important to eliminate any breeding grounds for microorganisms,” he said. “And when using acidic cleaning agents, the tile joints must first be rinsed with water. This prevents the acid from soaking in and attacking the grouting.”

He recommends the use of steam cleaners on machinery and kitchen utensils. “This enables areas such as grooved surfaces, cooker knobs and the edges of dishwasher front panels to be thoroughly and hygienically cleaned,” he said. “The steam penetrates the crevices that a brush or cloth would struggle to reach.”

The focus on kitchen hygiene has increased in recent years, according to Nolte. “This means greater care needs to be taken when there’s the possibility that a customer will catch a glimpse of a kitchen,” he said. “However, customers don’t play a big role in terms of the visual impression of the premises – a food inspector on the other hand will instantly make an assessment of a messy, dirty kitchen and ensure that he examines it carefully.”

There is little worse than an outbreak of food poisoning or a poor review from a hygiene inspector to strike a blow to a food service business, says GOJO European vice-president Chris Wakefield. “The resulting negative publicity can make it difficult to rebuild a damaged reputation, particularly if it has appeared in the newspapers and snowballed on social media,” he said.

“Financial impacts including fines and/or compensation can also take their toll. In the very worst cases of poor hygiene and safety, authorities may even force the business to close.”

All surface sanitising wipes and sprays for use in commercial kitchens should be highly effective, ready-to-use and fast acting, he said. “They also need to be quick drying and have as short a contact time as possible.

“And hand washing or sanitising facilities must be accessible and dispensers should be easy to use because their correct choice and positioning are crucial to influencing healthy hand hygiene behaviour.”

GOJO supplies a variety of dispensers, soap and sanitising solutions for use in the kitchen including Purell formulations available in gel and foam formats.

Cleanliness and hygiene are both fundamental factors for a successful commercial kitchen, says Diversey’s global marketing communications manager Ditty Vergeer. “If you serve food on unclean plates your customers will reach the conclusion that hygiene is not high on your list of priorities,” she said. “They might also associate this practice with a disregard for food safety, quality and customer service on your part – and this puts your reputation at risk.

Negative comments

“While your customers could choose to eat elsewhere, they are just as likely to express their opinion on social media. This provides a forum for instant judgement where negative comments can spread very quickly and out of your control. And reputation and trust are the most precious commodities you have.”

She adds that a good visual impression is pointless if cross-contamination is allowed to occur. “An outbreak of food poisoning can not only harm your reputation but invite litigation and threaten your livelihood - and the very existence of your business.”

A disordered kitchen has other drawbacks, she says. “Working in a cluttered environment conveys the impression that hygiene is not important which means your staff are more likely to disregard any procedures you have in place,” she said. “Implementing good food handling and regular hygiene processes such as washing the hands and cleaning surfaces and equipment before and after preparing food is crucial.”

Low levels of cleanliness can also have an impact on the bottom line and compromise sustainability, she says. “For example, when dishes are taken from your dishwasher still dirty they must be rewashed and this wastes time, energy, cleaning products and water,” she said. “And if rewash is carried out by hand this could lead to a high breakage rate which increases costs.”

Diversey offers a range of floor and surface cleaners, disinfectants and sanitisers and also runs the Hygiene Academy, a cloud-based e-learning programme for food preparation staff.

Actually clean

So, how important is it that kitchens are seen to be clean? While it is certainly desirable, it misses the main point according to commentators.

“It is more relevant to create an environment that is actually clean and hygienic,” said Essity’s Hanneke Kuipers. ”Not only will this create a good flow around the kitchen, it will also provide a happier place for staff to work.”

Diversey’s Ditty Vergeer adds that an impression of cleanliness in the kitchen will help a restaurant improve its social media ratings and present an acceptable face to the outside world. “However, this will not be sufficient without an efficient and trusted cleaning and hygiene regime,” she adds.

And GOJO’s Chris Wakefield concurs. “The number one reason for keeping a commercial kitchen clean and hygienic has to be to prevent the transmission of germs and protect the health of its clients,” he says.  “And leaving a good impression on customers and pleasing the food hygiene inspectors will both be natural by-products of this.


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