The cleanliness of your restaurant plays a big part in customer satisfaction. Not only do you want to give the appearance of being clean, which reassures guests they are eating in a good establishment, but you also want to practice safe food handling, so they are safe from foodborne illness. 

The three levels of clean

In a restaurant, there are three levels of cleaning: cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.

At the lowest level, cleaning means clearing dirt, trash, and debris from surfaces with a cloth. This makes your dining room and serving area look tidy and inviting, but it’s not enough to protect your guests.

When done correctly, sanitizing kills 99% of bacteria, fungi, and some microbes. Sanitizing solutions must be mixed at the proper concentration and must be left on a surface for at least 60 seconds. If you wipe down a table, menu, or serving counter with sanitizer and immediately dry it, you won’t get the full effect.

Restaurants frequently use cloths or towels made of organic materials such as cotton or paper pulp. These materials break down sanitizer and will, over time, cause the solution to be ineffective. A better practice is to use a towel that’s designed to be used with quaternary ammonia sanitizers, sometimes called a “quat-friendly” towel.

Disinfecting kills bacteria and viruses, but it also must be done correctly to be effective. Disinfectants must stay in contact with the surface for 10 minutes.

Reducing the risk of cross-contamination

Though emphasis tends to be placed on cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting the back of the house, to avoid cross-contamination, as much emphasis should be placed on the front of the house.

In the front of the house, surfaces that customers touch should be cleaned and sanitized every time the table turns. These surfaces include tables, high chairs, chairs, booster seats, menus, bar tops, and condiment containers. Self-ordering kiosks or tablets also need to be cleaned and sanitized using technology-safe processes as specified by the manufacturer.

Here are five steps to effectively clean, sanitize, and disinfect the customer-friendly areas of your restaurant.

  1. Remove crumbs and spills:  Removing crumbs and spills will keep you from just smearing food around the table during the next steps. Use a disposable paper towel or disposable cloth product that can absorb a majority of the liquids and pick up food particles.
  1. Clean the surface: Use a surface-safe cleaning solution in combination with a fresh disposable wipe to help dissolve any persistent food residue and dirt. Consider disposable wipes that are chemically treated to limit the growth of odor-causing bacteria and extend the life of the quat solution.
  1. Rinse the surface: Rinse the surface with water to remove the residual cleaning solution. Rinsing is necessary because cleaning chemicals are not compatible with sanitizers. If they combine, the sanitizer won’t be able to do its job.
  1. Sanitize the surface: Sanitizing removes any invisible germs that remain. Though this step is often overlooked, it’s critical. Sanitizing eliminates the risk of cross-contamination, protecting guests and employees from inadvertently spreading viruses and bacteria that make people sick.
           Typically, restaurants use quaternary- or chlorine-based sanitizers and a foodservice wipe that distributes sanitizer on surfaces. Paper or absorbent cloths are not ideal for this task, as they will absorb the sanitizer instead of leaving on the surface long enough to kill microbes. The best practice is to use disposable wipes designed to prolong the effectiveness of sanitizing solution.
  1. Allow the surface to air dry: Air-drying seems trivial and time-consuming. However, this is an essential step of sanitizing. Typically, sanitizers require an average of 60 seconds of contact to kill germs on the surface. So, even if you have customers eager to get to their table, make sure the table is sanitized for at least 60 seconds before they sit down. The added protection from cross-contamination is worth the short wait!

Color coding your towels

Foodservice towels that are designed to work with quat sanitizers are a better option than cotton-based towels and bar mops. For example, Tork Foodservice Towels won’t break down sanitizers, rinse clean, and are odorless for a better front-of-house impression.

Another best practice for keeping surfaces clean and disinfected is to employ a color-coding system to help avoid the risk of cross-contamination. Assign different colors of towels for various front- and back-of-house tasks. You might use red for raw meats, green for fresh produce, blue for counters and white for anywhere in the dining area where patrons can see you cleaning.

It’s essential that your restaurant looks (and is) clean, but to protect your customers, employees, and your business, you must also address invisible threats that can make people sick. Using quat-friendly towels, leaving sanitizers on surfaces for at least 60 seconds, and using a color-coding system to separate towels by functional area are just a few of the techniques you can use to keep your restaurant clean, sanitized, and free from cross-contamination.

This content is provided courtesy of Tork, an Essity brand, and a 2019 National Food Safety Month sponsor