Cleaning your Food Business

Learn how to clean

By the end of this section, you will have all the knowledge you need to keep your food business clean. We look at:

Importance of cleaning

We start with why cleaning is so important and why we must make sure our cleaning chemicals do not become a food safety hazard.

Two stage cleaning

Two stage cleaning is something every food business operator needs to understand. We also need to understand disinfectant / sanitiser contact time; a vital factor in making sure harmful micro-organisms are sufficently removed.

What cloths to use and why

We look at the pros and cons of different cloth types, so that you can decide what works best for your business, and make sure your cloths do not become a food safety problem.

Importance of cleaning

Keeping a clean food business sounds pretty basic, but amazingly so many are dirty when the Environmental Health Officer turns up. Finding time to clean when you are busy or short staffed is difficult, but it is also very important.

Once a business starts to get dirty, many owners forget what it was like to ever be clean. It becomes the ‘new normal’ until the EHO arrives and starts shaking their head. There goes the five star food hygiene rating – and over something as simple as cleaning!

When Things Go Wrong

Hove Brasserie was fined over £10,000 following prosecution by Brighton and Hove City Council’s food safety officers.

The restaurant was found to have a greasy and slippery floor, with dirt and food debris on the floor, behind cooking equipment and in the drain. Dirty brooms were found hanging from the ceiling where they could potentially contaminate crockery. The meat slicer and electric fly killer required cleaning and there was an infestation of fruit flies.

Essentially poor cleaning practices led to the food business operator being found guilty of 16 food hygiene offences. Make sure you keep up with cleaning to prevent this happening to you.

    The truth is, it’s probably the most time-consuming bit of food safety, and unless you love cleaning, it’s pretty boring too. A lot of food safety problems stem from unclean kitchens though, so you must keep up with it. There are different strategies you can use to make this easier:

  1. Clean as you go: By cleaning as you work, it will never get too out of hand. It is worse to finish a shift and find the kitchen looks like an earthquake hit it. The best businesses will be constantly doing little cleaning jobs throughout the day, so that when the kitchen closes, there’s not much left to do.
  2. Have a cleaning schedule: Having a list to go through can help turn cleaning into a task-based activity. You can work your way through the list and not have to think too much about what you’re doing. You can break the cleaning of equipment down on to different days so everything gets cleaned periodically and nothing gets left behind.

    There’s no legal requirement to have a cleaning schedule, but they are a useful tool. Watch out though, if you do have one, you have to follow it, as it forms part of your food safety management system.

  3. Listen to the radio: If you find cleaning boring, try and take your mind off it. Listen to the radio, your favourite music, have the TV on, or have your partner on speakerphone – whatever it is, just do something to create a distraction and make the time go quicker!

Food Safety Top Tip

A cleaning schedule can really help a food business keep on top of cleaning. It helps you identify all the areas that need cleaning and how often they need to be cleaned. It helps to prevent you forgetting certain tasks and it can be useful for assigning cleaning tasks to members of staff.

It is not a legal requirement, but a very useful tool. If you dislike paperwork you can just create a daily, weekly and monthly cleaning list and put it on the wall, negating the need to tick tasks off once they have been completed. Be warned though, if you have a cleaning schedule you need to stick to it, otherwise you are not following your own food safety management system.

Cleaning chemical contamination

This is an easy one to get right and yet EHOs still find businesses making this silly mistake, particularly in retail shops where shelving space is limited. Make sure you have an area where you keep your cleaning chemicals – well away from any food! Chemical contamination of food can be very serious, even fatal. A leak or spillage from a container may be unnoticed until it is too late and someone is consuming the food it has contaminated.

Don’t decant chemicals into food containers – this is a recipe for disaster. You must keep chemicals in containers designed and labelled for their use. A non-descript container or spray bottle can be accidentally misused or if someone ends up being harmed by the chemical, you need to have the information on what it is immediately to hand to react effectively.

You must be careful when using cleaning chemicals, making sure you consider any food nearby, and the transfer of chemicals from staff members onto food after all the cleaning is finished. Spray bottles can launch chemical drops a significant distance contaminating food in the area. Staff may also not realise they have chemical residue on their hands or sleeves for example, which may then transfer to food during preparation afterwards.

Make sure you remove all food from the area before cleaning. If this isn’t possible, you must find a way to protect the food whilst cleaning takes place. Make sure you think it through and come up with a sensible process. When staff members have finished cleaning, make sure hands are washed and clothes are checked for any cross contamination.

Two Stage Cleaning

If there is one thing you need to learn when it comes to cleaning, it is the principal of two stage cleaning. Learn it, understand it, use it, and when the EHO visits, explain it to them smugly. The art of two stage cleaning is so simple and will win you lots of points with the EHO. So, what is it? Two stage cleaning is what it says, cleaning in two stages!

Stage one

The first stage is to use a detergent to wash your equipment and remove any visible dirt. I recommend using washing up liquid, mixed with hot water. Give everything a good scrub and make sure you remove any dirt and debris. Hot soapy water is excellent at breaking down grease, or stuck on sauces, etc. When you have finished washing down with the hot soapy water and you have rinsed it off with clean water, the equipment should look clean.

Stage two

Stage two is to use a disinfectant. Once you have washed things down with hot soapy water and the area looks clean, you will now use your disinfectant, usually a spray bottle. This will sufficiently remove any harmful micro-organisms that may still be lying around after stage one. Remember, they are microscopic and so you cannot see them, but they may still be on your equipment. Covering them with a disinfectant will kill them off.

Why two stage clean?

Well, because disinfectant is not very good at cleaning away dirt and debris. It can kill harmful micro-organisms that it can reach, but if you have any food debris remaining, this can hide micro-organisms from the disinfectant and keep them safe and alive. The detergent, therefore, is to get rid of any solids that might harbour the micro-organisms, leaving the equipment free of hiding places and ready for your disinfectant.

Other methods of two stage cleaning

Sanitisers are designed to be able to do the job of the detergent and the disinfectant. You still need to two stage clean, but you use the sanitiser to firstly remove the visible dirt and then use it a second time to sufficiently remove any remaining harmful micro-organisms. In my experience, they are useful for clean-as-you-go two stage cleaning, but are not as effective at removing dirt when it is caked on. There is still something to be said for a bit of elbow grease and hot soapy water!

It is very common for hot soapy water to be used for the first stage of cleaning and then a sanitiser to be used for the second stage. This is an effective way of keeping food equipment clean.

Sufficient heat treatment can be used in place of conventional two stage cleaning. Utensils and equipment may go through a commercial dishwasher for example, which when used properly, will adequately remove dirt and then disinfect.

Careful that you do not overload the dishwasher, as it may prevent it from being able to wash effectively. In a dishwasher study by the Health Protection Agency (now Public Health England) in 2010-2011, 7% of dishwasher samples taken from the internal surfaces and recently washed items were unsatisfactory. Dishwashers can be an essential tool in a food business, but they must be maintained by a competent person and they must be cleaned inside and out regularly.

Steam cleaners can be used in the kitchen as well, but be careful about using it safely. You will also need to adequately ventilate to remove the substantial amount of steam (water!) they produce.

Complex equipment will need to be fully dismantled to be cleaned. Where equipment cannot be fully dismantled and therefore cannot be thoroughly cleaned, it cannot be used for raw and ready-to-eat foods.

Vacuum packers, meat slicers, mincers, blenders and mixers are all known as complex pieces of equipment. A good example is the vacuum packer. This cannot be cleaned internally without professional dismantling and therefore you cannot use a vacuum packer for both raw and ready-to-eat foods. You must choose one and stick to it.

No complex piece of equipment can be dual used safely, as harmful micro-organisms can get into the internal parts of the equipment, meaning there is a risk of cross-contamination. You may be able to take some complex equipment apart yourself to clean, such as a meat slicer, but be sure you know exactly how you are going to do this safely.

Food Safety Top Tip

Sampling results in 2019 of containers in takeaways, found that over half were contaminated to an unsatisfactory level. The swabs found indicators of faecal contamination, poor hand hygiene and poor temperature control. Yum!

Furthermore, two-thirds were not specifically for designed for re-use and over half had no food contact-mark, an indication they should not even be used for food at all.

If you are using containers for food, make sure they are designed for the job and have the “food safe” symbol. The “wine glass and fork” symbol indicates that the material used is considered safe for food contact. Keep your food containers clean so that they do not become a contamination risk.

As for containers showing signs of poor hand hygiene and faecal contamination, head over to the personal hygiene section to review how important humans are to food safety standards.

BS EN compliant sanitiser

If you are handling any raw foods in your kitchen, you need a disinfectant or sanitiser that has been tested and found to comply with either British Standard BS EN 1276:2009 or BS EN 13697:2001 (newer versions of these standards are also acceptable).

Raw foods include any meat, root vegetables, salad items, basically anything that has been exposed to the environment and has not been treated so that it is ready-to-eat. For example, cooked sliced ham to go in a sandwich, or washed salad, are both ready-to-eat foods and do not require a BS EN tested disinfectant / sanitiser. Carrots covered in mud, or raw mince meat, are examples of raw foods!

The reason for this is the increased risk of harmful bacteria being present in your kitchen as a result of you handling raw foods. E. coli O157 can be present on raw meat or in the soil where vegetables are grown. In order to safely reduce the presence of these harmful bacteria you need a disinfectant / sanitiser that has proven its adequacy in a lab, hence the British Standards.

Most manufacturers are aware of the importance of these standards and will tell you the product complies on the product label. After all, it is a selling point. Others are not so obvious and you will need to contact the manufacturer to confirm if they comply or not.

Food Safety Top Tip

I shall call this the Dettol problem. It's an infamous discussion among EHOs and it's been going on for years now.

Depending on where your food business is located in the country, your local EHO may or may not allow you to use Dettol Antibacterial Surface Cleanser as a compliant sanitiser. This causes all sorts of issues as this Dettol spray is particularly popular, probably because you can buy it in just about any supermarket and it’s quite cheap! So it ends up in lots of independent food businesses. The reason why it is problematic is a little complex, but I will try to explain...

Dettol Antibacterial Surface Cleanser has passed BS EN 1276:2009 and BS EN 13697:2001, but as a company they will not recommend their product to be used in commercial kitchens. The reason why is that the methodologies of the BS EN tests do not specifically test against E. coli O157, they test against another E. coli strain. Whilst E. coli O157 would be expected to behave in a similar way to the test strain, it isn't specifically the same.

So, the product meets the requirements of the Food Standards Agency guidance, but the company do not recommend it is used in commercial kitchens. On the one hand it ticks the boxes, but on the other you cannot really use a product for a purpose the manufacturer explicitly states it should not be used for. They say it’s a domestic cleaning product, not a commercial one.

At the end of the day, the only safe solution is to find a different product that is compliant and is designed for use in commercial catering environments. There’s no point stocking Dettol Antibacterial Surface Cleanser and possibly losing out on a five star food hygiene rating. It’s an argument that simply isn’t worth having with the EHO. After all, Dettol (Reckitt Benckiser) aren’t going to back you up!

Disinfectant / sanitiser contact time

There are a lot of different disinfectants / sanitisers out there, and they all have different instructions. If you are not following the instructions, you have absolutely no way of knowing that it is working and sufficiently removing pathogens. Some you have to spray on, wipe and then carry on. Others you have to spray on, wipe and then leave for five minutes and then wash off.

You must follow the instructions on the back of the bottle and you must know them so that when the EHO asks, you can tell them exactly how your disinfection process works.

Food Safety Top Tip

Firstly, make life easy by using the same disinfectant or sanitiser each time. Swapping and changing means you have to learn and follow different instructions each time.

Secondly, choose a disinfectant or sanitiser with a short contact time, ideally no more than 30 seconds. If you choose one that has to be left for five minutes, that’s a pain when you are trying to run a busy kitchen – especially if you need that work surface for something else!

What cloths to use and why

Cloths get dirty, fast! They can quickly become contaminated with bacteria and then by continuing to use the cloth you can spread the bacteria around the kitchen, rather than cleaning it up like you think you are doing.

Not only this, but in a world where allergen management has become a critical food safety issue, you may also be spreading allergen ingredients into places you never knew they would be. This can make allergen management impossible to achieve successfully.

Cloths and cross contamination

You therefore have to think about the potential to spread bacteria and allergens whenever you are using a cloth.

The most obvious way this may occur is by using a cloth to clean an area where raw meat has been prepared and then use the same cloth in an area where ready-to-eat foods will be prepared. This creates an easy potential hazard of spreading bacteria from your raw section to your ready-to-eat foods.

Make sure you use a clean cloth whenever wiping work surfaces, equipment or utensils that will be used for ready-to-eat foods.

Another obvious potential hazard would be to use the same cloths for dirty areas such as the floor or the toilet and then use it to wipe kitchen equipment or hand contact points. If you are cleaning a dirty area, make sure you change the cloth before proceeding to other areas.

Disposable cloths

Using disposable cloths will make sure that any bacteria or allergens picked are disposed of quickly, preventing their spread around the kitchen. This only works if you actually dispose of them after each task though.

It is surprisingly common for the EHO to find so-called disposable cloths sat on the worktop with a slimy film over them where they haven’t been changed for days! Not good!

Single use paper roll can be effective as once used you are likely to dispose of it, whereas a J Cloth is more likely to be retained and reused multiple times before being disposed of.

Re-usable cloths

It is hard to recommend re-usable cloths from a hygiene point of view, but I understand if there is an environmental motivation to use them.

If you are going to use them, make sure you have a large supply to use through each day. As soon as a cloth has been used around raw meat, poultry, eggs or vegetables, take it away for thorough washing and disinfection.

It is not just about them looking dirty, a cloth can look perfectly clean but be covered in harmful micro-organisms.

Cloths should be washed in the washing machine at 90°C. If you are washing them at home, make sure your domestic washing machine can actually get this high a temperature, as many cannot.

If you are washing by hand, you must make sure you remove any food and dirt using hot soapy water before disinfecting them with either boiling water or a suitable disinfectant. Without removing the food or dirt from the cloth, harmful micro-organisms can hide from your disinfectant and survive.

Steeping cloths in bleach has been shown to be an ineffective method of disinfection and is not recommended by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Before re-using cloths, you must make sure they have dried sufficiently.