Using Cleaning Cloths Safely and Hygienically.
In response to a frequent question we receive regarding the use of dish cloths for cleaning and disinfection in the kitchen, here are some of our thoughts on the subject, in the context of food and food safety.
Cleaning cloths, improperly used, have the potential to be the cause of cross-contamination; spreading food borne pathogens around kitchens and food rooms. Studies have recognised that cloths used in both domestic and commercial kitchens can harbour very high levels of pathogenic bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella. Combine this with food handlers who have an inadequate level of food hygiene knowledge, and you have a food poisoning disaster just waiting to happen!
It’s important to note that there’s no point in having segregated areas, surfaces and equipment for food production and preparation if all surfaces and equipment end up being cleaned with the same cloth. Damp dish cloths, ingrained with grease and food residue, left lying around for hours on end, provide the optimum environment for the growth of bacteria. The bacteria is then spread around causing contamination each time the cloth is used; sometimes a single cloth can be used multiple times by several different food handlers, further exacerbating the danger and therefore exposing many more people to food poisoning.
The number seven is widely acknowledged to be the complete number, so here are seven very straightforward safety tips to prevent cross-contamination when using cleaning cloths.
- We would recommend when practicable, using single-use, disposable cloths. This method is always preferable; as it means that the cloth (along with any pathogens) can be disposed of immediately after cleaning; reducing the risk of contamination. In some instances, this could mean replacing traditional cloths with a blue paper towel, but only if the paper is sufficiently durable to cope with the task in hand.
- Where possible, colour-code your cleaning cloths. There is a wide variety of different coloured cleaning cloths on the market today, which can be purchased inexpensively. If it’s not practical to have a full set of colours, it can be as simple as having blue ‘J Cloths’ for the cooked, ready-to-eat areas of production in your kitchen, and red cloths for the raw areas.
- It’s imperative that cloths are replaced regularly, but especially when they start to tear or become damaged.
- Ensure cleaning cloths are thoroughly washed after each use. Never use the same cloth for cleaning between different tasks, especially between raw and cooked areas!
- Subsequent to washing, best practice would be to fully immerse the cloth in hot water above 82°c for several minutes, (to disinfect). All cleaning cloths should be laundered daily either in a washing machine on a boil wash and/or in a dishwasher, and always left to thoroughly air dry before reusing.
- Provide a clearly designated receptacle in the kitchen for all dirty cloths. This is a practical measure you can take to prevent them from being reused before they have been washed. Likewise, make sure that all clean cloths are stored separately and hygienically away from food.
- Ensure there is an adequate supply of fresh cloths at the start of each working day so that food handlers are not tempted to keep reusing soiled cloths.
Other important points to consider
Make sure that your cleaning procedures and cleaning schedules are up-to-date, and that cleaning procedures are written down. The policy on cleaning cloths should be clearly documented on the schedule, along with cleaning methods and the approved chemicals which are to be used. When using cleaning chemicals, it is absolutely essential that the manufacturer’s instructions are followed at all times. This includes dilution rates and the required contact time. It’s also a very good idea to check that your disinfectants and sanitisers meet the required standards, as many don’t! The Food Standards Agency state in their E. coli O157 Cross-contamination Factsheet – Caterers (2014) that “…Disinfectants and sanitisers must at least meet the requirements of one of the following standards: BS EN 1276 or BS EN 13697; or other standards that meet the same conditions and requirements.”
Cleaning and disinfection must be carried out on all hand and food-contact surfaces and equipment. Effective cleaning precedes effective disinfection, disinfection won’t work on visibly soiled surfaces; one follows the other. Another obvious point to make is never to spray cleaning chemicals around open food, as this could easily result in chemically contaminating your products, but more seriously, damaging the health of those people who go on to consume the food.
Finally, and very importantly, managers and supervisors must clearly communicate standards to food handlers, and ensure this is underpinned by ongoing and effective supervision. Managers can massively help implement standards and maintain a good food safety culture if they lead by example and put into practice ‘what they preach’. Hypocrisy is a big turn-off. A manager who is sloppy will often find that their staff are too – and in all probability, to a greater degree. This principle applies and extends into all areas of food safety.