Rats, mice, insects and bacteria are four things no facility wants to deal with. But unless custodial departments keep kitchens and dining areas properly cleaned, they are a legitimate threat. Areas where food is stored and prepared can quickly become a haven for risk and it is essential for departments to have proper cleaning programs and procedures in place that will minimize those risks.

Feeding the Cleaning Program

"An organized cleaning program is a necessity in food service areas," says Barbara Feiler, who works as a breakfast aid at La Quinta Hotel in Glendale, Wis. "There are 'best practices' that all managers should be aware of."

Developing a food service cleaning program and a well thought out plan based on these best practices begins with management, say experts. These plans should detail the cleaning mission, the procedures to follow and how the staff will be trained and monitored. Executing the jobs, once the plan is in place, may be shuffled down the chain as long as ongoing monitoring occurs to ensure procedures are followed.

Because food service areas differ greatly from hotel to restaurant, hospital to office, nursing home to school, management must consider the unique challenges of the facility in order to develop an appropriate cleaning program, notes Feiler.

Planning begins with a facility walk-through, where cleaning managers take note of the different areas to clean, the cleaning needs of those areas and the frequency of necessary cleaning. They can then list the chemicals and equipment to use and the cleaning processes to follow.

For example, a facility might have a kitchen and food prep area, a dining area, a food storage location, a trash site, coolers, and so on; each place has specific cleaning needs and should be appropriately outlined in the cleaning plan.

Because food storage and trash sites are havens for pests, custodial operations should consider pest control. They must not only consider pests that come in with food but those that venture in with deliveries or through crevices in walls.

Michael Gutierrez, building and operations supervisor for Milwaukee Public Schools, says the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture helped his team develop a food storage plan aimed at minimizing pest threats.

Stove hoods and ducting require cleaning too, emphasizes Bill Griffin, president of Cleaning Consultants Inc., Seattle, Wash, who points out when those areas are overlooked it puts facilities at risk for fire. Setting equipment-cleaning procedures lessens an operation's liability.

"I heard a case where a worker put embers from a grill in the trash and they caught on fire burning the restaurant down," he recalls. "The lawsuit questioned who was responsible for removing the embers from the grill and where they were supposed to put them. Was it the custodial worker's fault or the restaurant manager in charge of training?"

These questions become easier to answer when there are written procedures, monitoring and supervision, and documented inspections.

When developing food service cleaning plans, Gutierrez advises it isn't necessary to reinvent the wheel. Custodial operations can contact similar facilities to view their plans and guidelines, then adopt the best practices as their own.

Experts recommend developing a cleaning team that includes the food service manager and cleaning staff, as well as the cleaning products and equipment distributor.

"Most distributors offer education and training that's accessible to building managers," Gutierrez says. "Industry websites also provide a wealth of educational materials."

The facility's schedule also plays a role, he says. For instance, in many schools, the cafeteria doubles as a multipurpose room, which affects when and how the area can be cleaned.

Cooking Up the Right Chemicals

Food service areas require the use of basic chemicals — detergents, degreasers, disinfectants and deodorizers, as well as specialty chemicals such as those for grill cleaning and disinfectants for food prep areas and dishwashing.

While kitchens of the past were cleaned with bleach because of its disinfecting properties, Feiler recommends looking to green the cleaning in these areas.

"Bleach (sodium hydrochloride) is a health hazard to facility employees," she says. "Accelerated hydrogen peroxide (oxygen bleach), quaternary ammonium compounds (quats), and ionized water are safer. Pour an enzyme drain cleaner into kitchen drains regularly; enzymes work naturally to chemically break down food matter."

One of the worst enemies in the kitchen is grease. Here, liquid degreasers, scrubbing sponges and pressure washers work well to keep the kitchen clean.

"All kitchens should have a 'deep cleaning' program in place to clean from 'top to bottom,' " she says.

Milwaukee Public Schools' program includes regularly scheduled deep cleaning, Gutierrez says. The school's nutrition services and custodial personnel clean the food prep areas with sanitizers, sweep the floors and wash them with a neutral cleaner after the breakfast, lunch and dinner/snack programs (in some of the schools). When school is not in session, deeper cleaning takes place at least quarterly. Project cleaning where walls are scrubbed, light fixtures are cleaned, oven filters are replaced, and so on occurs annually.

"We use a degreaser for all of this work," he says.

A 24-hour facility may have more difficulty planning for deep cleans. In this situation, Feiler recommends thinking of the food service area as a pie, where once a week a housekeeper would clean one piece of the pie. This ensures all areas receive periodic deep cleaning.

Food Service Floor Care

The first step in keeping floors clean is to make sure workers tend to them periodically as cooking or eating takes place. Regular sweeping gets rid of larger particles.

"Gross soil removal is the first step," says Griffin. "We need to pick it up, sweep it up and put it in the trash can."

Once debris has been removed, chemicals need to be applied to the floor, then left to dwell in order to dissolve grease, oil and soil. Some agitation might also be needed. A hand brush or a deck brush can be used, but Griffin prefers vacuum removal.

"Use auto scrubbers if you can," he says. "This allows you to put clean water and chemicals down, agitate it and remove it all in one pass."

He warns against simply using a mop pail, ringer and mop, unless stringent procedures are in place.

"You tend to do more spreading around than actually removing, especially if you don't change the mops on a regular basis or fail to dump the water frequently enough," Griffin says.

Color-coding is another best practice to use, adds Feiler, to avoid using products and equipment designated for food service areas in other parts of the facility. Microfiber cloths come in a rainbow of colors, so the operation could use green for food service, blue for wet cleaning, red or orange in bathrooms, and yellow for dusting.

"This includes purchasing mop buckets in green for the kitchen," she says. "Most hotel kitchens use cut-up, stained terry as cooking rags. I suggest purchasing green rags and washing them separately."

This option is an excellent choice because it prevents kitchen mops from being used in other areas.

"If you are using the same mop in the kitchen, the bathroom and the dining area, you are asking for trouble," says Griffin. "You are taking grease from the kitchen and bacteria from the bathroom and spreading it everywhere."

Milwaukee Public Schools have moved away from mopping food service areas. Auto-scrubbers are used wherever possible and are equipped with neutral-grade scrubbing pads, Gutierrez says, because they do a better job of cleaning and reduce the risk of slip and falls. An on-board chemical dispensing system also ensures that chemicals are properly diluted.

In addition to proper floor care, matting is a safety necessity because food service workers are on their feet a lot. Safety mats made of rigid webbing allow food and grease to drop through so workers stand on clean, slip-resistant surfaces. Daily cleaning and deep cleaning of these mats is important as is project cleaning. Milwaukee Public Schools removes mats quarterly, scrubs them with a degreaser and hoses them off with a power washer before hanging them to dry.

Outside the kitchen, dining areas may be carpeted or tiled, and each offers its own set of needs and challenges. Because a dining area is often filled with people, cleaning must be scheduled at optimal times, says Fernando Clemente, head of custodial operations at Evergreen Fountains Senior Living in Spokane Valley, Wash.

Evergreen Fountains Senior Living has both dining rooms and a bistro. The dining areas are only used for dinner, so housekeepers clean them during the day. Carpets are cleaned first thing in the morning and fans are used to dry them before dinner. The bistro is open for breakfast from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., then kept open for beverage service from 2 to 6 p.m. Because people occupy these areas all day, the organization charges its nighttime security personnel with mopping the floors.

The Best Laid Plans

Without adequate training of cleaning personnel and supervision, even the best plans will fail.

"The procedures must be in writing and communicated to everyone," Griffin says. "Workers need to be taught how to perform the procedures and the quality assurance guidelines and expectations, then there needs to be supervision and inspection of their work. Without these things you won't have a clean facility, no matter how good the plan is."

Monitoring and supervision is just good business. Health department inspections can happen at any time. Gutierrez says he employs building operations supervisors who spend 90 percent of their time inspecting the schools. They have an inspection sheet to follow for the kitchen and dining areas, and use monitoring boards for pests and check them bi-weekly. Their initials, date of inspection, and their findings are documented and kept on file.

"This makes sure a certain level of cleanliness is maintained," he says.

While maintaining a food service area can be a chore, it's one that should not be overlooked. As Griffin says, "Whether the facility is a convenience store selling hot dogs, a stand on the corner, a four-star restaurant or a cafeteria preparing food for thousands of people, you need a cleaning program that keeps the area clean and safe."

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.