Foodborne illness outbreaks can cause great harm to a restaurant’s reputation—and its bottom line. Despite that, sanitation is at the bottom of most people’s lists, according to Austin Publicover, owner of Bulletproof Food Safety, a New York City-based consultancy. “They are more concerned about costs, labor, training, recipe issues, no-show employees, etc., and this gets pushed way down.”
But every time another outbreak makes headlines, that should reinforce the importance of adopting an effective cleaning and sanitizing protocol. Experts offered tips on some strategies for preventing outbreaks:
Kick the bucket. The tried-and-true technique of dipping rags into an open bucket with cleaning solution is a recipe for disaster, experts say. The most obvious hazard is contamination from food particles, other foreign bodies and germs attached to the cleaning cloth finding their way into the solution. But a less-obvious challenge comes from the way cotton, microfiber and other materials react with the solution.
“Quaternary ammonium compound (quat) sanitizing solution is positively charged, and if you put a cotton or microfiber cloth into that solution, those cloths have a negative charge, which means the quat ions bind to the rag,” says Grace Hulett, category manager-foodservice wipers at Georgia-Pacific (GP PRO). “That can deplete the strength of the sanitizer on the cloth anywhere from 50% to 70% in the first half hour.”
A closed system that dispenses single-use, quat-compatible wipes soaked in the sanitizer can reduce the risk of cross-contamination. It will also maintain the efficacy of the sanitizer.
Cleaning does not equal sanitizing. Cleaning is just one part of the equation. Sanitizing is the other part. “Many sanitizers are not registered to clean and sanitize at the same time, so you may need to do two steps,” says Eric Reilly, an associate scientist at Georgia-Pacific’s Neenah Technical Center. People often clean superficially and assume that a surface that looks clean is also sanitized. “But you don’t see the microbes,” he adds. He recommends proper training in use of the products and ensuring that “when you wipe down a surface, you wipe down the entire surface—really catch all those spots as well as any corners, nooks and crannies.”
Allowing insufficient time to let the sanitizer work is another common mistake. Many restaurant employees spray disinfectant on a tabletop, for instance, then wipe it down immediately, which doesn’t allow the sanitizing product to do its job. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s directions to ensure product effectiveness.
Be deliberate. The easy way to mix a sanitizer is to slosh some solution into a bucket of water. The correct way—to ensure the solution is at the proper concentration to be effective—is to measure product and use test strips to make sure it has maintained its strength. “You need to be very diligent and intentional about mixing the product and periodically monitoring it,” Hulett says.
An ounce of prevention helps, too. “There is one big thing that very few operators do: Sanitize all the surfaces and working tools—spatulas, knives, anything involved in food preparation—every four hours. It’s a way to break the chain of bacteria in the back of the house,” says Jay Bandy, president of Atlanta-based Goliath Consulting Group.
Consistency and applying best practices are fundamental to any cleaning and sanitizing program, which may involve staff training, regular testing of your sanitizing solution, and using a closed-system dispenser with quat-compatible wipes. With so much at stake, restaurants can’t afford to compromise their approach to sanitizing.
This post is sponsored by Georgia-Pacific, manufacturer of GP PRO and Dixie® brand solutions