Commercial kitchen rules to keep food safe and healthy

Robert Kravitz shares some rules for those working in commercial kitchens - and those whom clean commercial kitchens – should be aware of.

Robert Kravitz shares some rules for those working in commercial kitchens – and those whom clean commercial kitchens – should be aware of.

Orthodox Jews around the world have some stringent policies when it comes to cooking food. Many Australians may not be aware of this because there are less than 100,000 Jews in the entire country and most live either in Sydney or Melbourne.

But if you were to visit a home with a “Jewish kitchen,” one of the first things you might notice is there are two sinks.  One is to be used for preparing fish and poultry and the other for meat. There may also be two sets of dishwashers to wash dishes and utensils, again with one used for fish and chicken and the other for meat.

The point is, everything is kept separate, and interestingly, some Islamic dietary laws have these very same policies.  These two groups of ancient peoples lived in the same areas of the world and at identical times.

It appears both groups came to a similar conclusion: when the same cooking utensils, dishes, and preparation areas were used for cooking both types of foods, health issues could arise.

While this tradition may not be as necessary today, similar rules and regulations may still be needed to help keep food cooked in commercial kitchens sanitary and healthy.

For instance, Beth Amaya, a foodservice consultant in North America, suggests, “if at all possible,  designate separate areas [in hotel and restaurant kitchens] for preparing poultry, meats, fish, and produce. At the very least, prepare different foods at separate ends of the counter.”

The reason: Just as the Jews and Muslims discovered thousands of years ago, this practice helps promote sanitation and reduces the risk of cross-contamination.

Other rules we should know

There are about a dozen different rules those working in commercial kitchens – and those that clean commercial kitchens – should be aware of. These include the following:

  • Cutting boards and knives need to be cleaned after every use. This means, if the kitchen staff is using knives to prepare poultry, before using those same knives to prepare fish or meat, the knives must be cleaned. Professional cleaning solutions are available for this or staff can use a vinegar-and-water mixture.
  • If cleaning kitchen equipment, knives, or cutting boards in sinks, the sink must be cleaned and sanitised first. “Failure to do so can negate the whole cleaning process,” says Amaya.
  • The backsplash behind sinks must also be cleaned and disinfected. This is an area often overlooked. Amaya suggests kitchen managers post reminders to kitchen staff to thoroughly clean areas behind the sink.
  • While sanitisers and disinfectants are necessary, these products must be used carefully. The US Environmental Protection Agency lists sanitisers and disinfectants as pesticides and many areas of the world, including Australia, do so as well. This means they may contain ingredients that could harm human health if ingested. To prevent this, always rinse areas  thoroughly where these products have been used to remove any chemical residue.
  • Cutting boards and some cutting utensils should be color-coded. Usually, this involves placing a coloured dot on these items. A white dot may indicate, for instance, that these items are to be used only when preparing fish. This helps prevent cross-contamination.
  • Store all cooking tools, utensils, and equipment, out of “splash zones.” Even a drop on one of these items could render it unclean and potentially contaminate food.
  • Clean can openers throughout the day. Can openers are continually used and get very contaminated very quickly. Clean them regularly.

Floor Care

All of the items discussed earlier apply to the prep areas in a commercial kitchen. But no hotel or restaurant kitchen is clean if the floor is not clean.

Soils and pathogens on the floor can find their way on to the prep area, utensils, and other surfaces in the kitchen. This is likely why the first area most public health inspectors check is the floor.

They also use it as a guide. If the floor is clean, sanitary, and well-maintained, it typically means the rest of the kitchen is clean and sanitary as well.

To help accomplish this, kitchen staff and cleaning professionals involved in commercial kitchen cleaning should adhere to the following rules:

  • Know when to clean: The floor should be cleaned between different meal shifts – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The longer grease, oil, and moist soils stay on the floor, the harder they can be to remove. We should also note: the floor should always be cleaned before other kitchen areas are cleaned. This helps prevent airborne soils from finding their way on to counters, cooking tools, and equipment.
  • Have a floor cleaning plan: Commercial kitchen floors take a real beating during the day. To get them back up to par requires a plan. This would include the order of tasks, where to begin the cleaning procedure, having all the necessary tools, cleaning solutions, and equipment available and ready to go, etc.
  • Install warning cones: Warning cones tell others that the kitchen is being cleaned and the floor may be slippery. In many situations, the people we want to warn and protect the most are other cleaning workers. Having warning cones installed at all kitchen entries helps protect everyone in the kitchen area.
  • Avoid the use of mops: A study conducted more than 40 years ago found “if mops are not kept adequately cleaned and disinfected, and if the water is not changed frequently enough in the buckets, the mopping procedure may spread heavy contamination through the facility.” *

This last point typically raises some eyebrows.  If we cannot use mops, what are the alternatives?

A cleaning contractor in Quebec, Canada has an answer. He cleans commercial kitchen floors using what ISSA calls spray-and-vac (no-touch) cleaning systems.  The machine applies cleaning solution to the floors; the same areas are then rinsed under heavy pressure to loosen and release soils, which are then vacuumed up by the machine.

Other options include:

  • High-pressure cleaning systems, which are a variation of the spray-and-vac system just mentioned, come in different sizes, produce either hot or cold water, and may be electric- or gas- powered. These can prove effective. However, costs and dependability can be issues, so due diligence is necessary when selecting one of these machines.
  • Dispense-and-vac cleaning systems for food service are a dependable and cost-effective option. These apply cleaning solution directly to the floor and then vacuum it up, along with soils, using a wand. The wand may have a brush on it; use it to provide agitation to loosen soils.
  • An automatic scrubber is another possibility. These are best used in large commercial kitchens if, for no other reason, they can be hard to handle and maneuver in a small kitchen. Important: Select pads specifically designed for this type of floor cleaning because the pad can become very greasy very quick.

When it comes to food safety, we have rules we must follow.  Some were invented thousands of years ago, and others are being introduced today.  In a sense, food sanitation is a journey.  We are always finding new ways, cleaning procedures, and systems to ensure the food we serve hotel and restaurant guests is safe, healthy, and hopefully tastes good too.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.

* Published by the American Society of Microbiology Journal, April 1971