Floor care tips for improving food safety in retail locations.
By Cameron Adams & Dale Grinstead
Listeria is not a bacteria you want to encounter. It causes serious infection when individuals ingest food contaminated with it. In the U.S., 1,651 Listeria-related illnesses were reported between 2009 and 2011 with a fatality rate of more than 20%.1 One outbreak alone in 2011 was the nation’s deadliest instance of foodborne illness in the last 25 years. In September 2013, two Colorado cantaloupe farmers were charged with distributing the fruit associated with the outbreak, which resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people. The Food and Drug Administration believes the melons were contaminated with Listeria because of dirty water on the floor of the packing house and through the use of old, hard-to-clean equipment.2
Floor care should always be a staple of retail store cleaning programs. When a customer walks into a retail space, what do they notice first? Likely, it’s the floors. A dirty floor can communicate that the rest of the store is not up to standards and scare customers from walking beyond the entrance matting. Floor care is also essential for encouraging risk management and food safety. Recent studies show that pathogens, such as Listeria, can not only contaminate retail floors, but can also colonize on these surfaces, especially if there is water or soil present. A 2012 study in The Journal of Food Protection noted that Listeria colonizing in floor drains in food processing facilities can be transferred to food contact surfaces if strong hoses are used to clean floors.3
Retail facilities can maintain cleanliness, food safety and customer satisfaction while staying committed to the triple bottom line, or “people, planet, profit.” To ensure clean floors day in and day out, improve customer perceptions and lower costs, cleaning staff of retail stores should keep the following tips in mind:
1. Create a regular schedule for cleaning floors
Creating and following a floor care schedule ensures that floors are cleaned as frequently as possible and can remain in top shape. Floors should be cleaned at least once a day. Cooler floors should be deep cleaned once a week. Organizations should also take seasonal changes and varying climates into consideration when creating a floor care schedule. During winter months and rainy seasons, floors should be mopped or wiped down as snow and mud are tracked into the store and across floors by customers and employees.
2. Select the best method for cleaning retail floors
Floor care machines, such as autoscrubbers, are effective at removing dirt, debris, water and other soils from floors. If using autoscrubbers, cleaning staff should select machines that are easy to maintain, as certain types can be more manageable than others. Staff must be careful if using an autoscrubber behind the counter, as they can spray pathogens to other surfaces.
A smart approach is to gently hose floors with a cleaner to remove soil, or clean them with a mop and bucket, rinse with either with a hose or a mop and bucket with fresh water, apply a sanitizer and allow the surface to air dry. Microfiber mops are great for light or moderate soils, but if the soil load is too high, they will be no more effective than regular string or rag mops.
Day cleaning is cost-effective, more environmentally-friendly and typically produces higher quality cleaning results compared to night cleaning. However, retailers must take caution with day cleaning. If this approach is to be used, it is more ideal for the front of the house. In the back of the house, there is a higher risk that machines will interfere with food that is being processed. Staff should steer away from using machines and sprays in these areas and toward mops and buckets to avoid creating aerosols, which can land on food contact surfaces.
3. Maintain cleaning equipment
If the tools used to clean floors are not well maintained, they can become sources of contamination. This includes mops, buckets, squeegees and machines. Tools should be cleaned after use with a fresh solution of the cleaner that was used on the floor, then rinsed with fresh water, sanitized and stored in such a way that they dry as soon as possible. Mops should not be stored in buckets of cleaner or sanitizer.
4. Conduct employee training
There is a high turnover rate in cleaning staff, so continual training is vital. New staff members should be trained at the onset of their employment and seasoned employees should undergo training when work tasks change or when monitoring shows that cleaning is inconsistent with expected results. Training should focus on educating employees to use the proper products and tools for each area of the store and to adhere to proper dilution ratios. Employees must follow the manufacturers’ instructions and avoid playing home chemist; more is not always better. Improper usage or dilutions are wasteful and costly, and the wrong combination of chemicals can have harmful results. Finally, cleaning tasks should be easy for employees. If something is too complex, it’s less likely to be completed in the proper way.
5. Pay attention to overlooked areas and small details
Cleaning staff should give extra attention to frequently overlooked areas, such as places where higher risk product is stored. Higher traffic areas, higher soil load areas, such as meat rooms, and areas that tend to get wet, such as around sinks, should not be overlooked. Floors should also be kept in good repair. Grout in disrepair and cracked tiles are a food safety nightmare because they can harbor microorganisms and are more difficult to clean. Thus, floor maintenance should be incorporated into a floor care schedule as well to ensure that high traffic areas or places where moisture gathers remain in shape over time.
6. Think like the customer
Metaphorically speaking, cleaning staff should put themselves in their customers’ shoes when completing cleaning tasks because the perception of cleanliness impacts a customer’s decision to frequent a business. According to August 2012 online survey responses from more than 1,600 individuals in the U.S., UK, the Netherlands and Spain who are responsible for purchasing food in their households, 37% of customers noted they will leave a supermarket without making a purchase if they are not satisfied with the level of cleanliness in the store. Customers who stay — but are also not satisfied with the level of cleanliness — will cut their spending costs by an average of 45%, resulting in lost revenue for retailers. If cleaning tasks are not producing high quality results, organizations need to reassess the processes, products and tools that are being used.
From a food safety perspective, there is a potential for cross contamination to occur if floors are not properly maintained and cleaned. Fortunately, if cleaning staff notice floors are already well maintained, they’re more likely to keep them looking good over time. And since customers rely on a limited number of clues to determine if a retail store is safe, floor cleanliness being one of them, retail stores need to continually focus on floor cleanliness. By following these six tips, retail facilities can help ensure food safety and keep customers returning.
— Cameron Adams is global director of strategic planning & development for retail at Diversey Care, a leading provider of commercial cleaning, sanitation and hygiene solutions and a part of Sealed Air. Adams may be reached at [email protected]. Dale Grinstead, PhD, is a food safety technology fellow with Diversey Care. Grinstead may be reached at [email protected].