Unhealthy Haven

by Katie Lee

Why commercial kitchen floors are bacteria havens.

By Robert Kravitz

It’s fairly easy to see why health inspectors put so much emphasis on the cleanliness of commercial kitchen floors. Most commercial kitchen floors are tile — ceramic, brick, quarry, etc. Not only are these tiles porous, but they are affixed to the floor with grout, which also tends to be very porous.

Therein lies the problem.

Bacteria thrive in these pores as well as inside cracks and abrasions in the floor and grout. We use the word thrive — which as we know means to flourish and prosper — because water used in cleaning often becomes lodged in the pores, cracks, abrasions, and irregularities in the floor as well. Together with the soils, moisture makes these areas the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, germs, pathogens…you name it.

There’s another reason that the grout specifically is a thriving area for bacteria. While the difference can vary, in almost all cases the tiles sit higher than the grout. This means that spills, soils, moisture and cleaning solutions used to clean these floors naturally get deposited in these lower grout areas. As the soils build up in these areas, they can become very difficult to remove. While the health inspector may be well aware of the challenge, that does not mean he or she will not cite the owner of the restaurant. Plain and simple, these areas not only have to be clean, they have to be as germ- and bacteria-free as possible.

Addressing the Challenge

There are ways restaurant owners/managers can address this problem, and it all starts the day the tiles are installed. Once installed, the installer should wipe down the surface of the tiles to remove excess grout and grout residue. This has to be completed before it dries. Once the grout dries it can be much more difficult to remove, and it creates a maintenance problem if not thoroughly removed.

Next, before leaving, the installer should seal the floor. While many restaurant owners may believe the reason for this is to leave a nice shine on the floor, appearance is secondary. The sealer, for as long as it lasts, helps prevent soils and moisture from penetrating the pores and grout of the floor. This initial step is very important, but owners/managers are advised that the sealant does not last forever. On an ongoing basis, with the floor thoroughly cleaned, it should be reapplied once or twice per year. If the floor becomes excessively soiled — brown or discolored — it will need to be stripped, removing the sealant and soiling, and a fresh coat(s) of sealant re-applied.

Daily/Routine Maintenance

Next to applying a sealant to the floor, the most important way to keep commercial kitchen floors clean and healthy is through a detailed daily/routine maintenance program. The first thing we must realize is that there are three types of soils that need to be removed from kitchen floors. These are:

1. Dry soils: Usually these can be removed through sweeping, dust mopping or vacuuming. Vacuuming with a backpack vacuum cleaner, for instance, could be the most effective way to remove dry soils because it lifts them off of the floor. Sweeping and dust mopping pushes them over the floor, which allows much of the soiling to become lodged in the grout and pores of the floor.

2. Liquid soils: These refer to spills, water and other moisture that collects on the floor, typically under the flow through mats on which kitchen workers walk. These areas are typically cleaned using string or flat mops. However, as we will discuss later, this can be the worst way to remove liquid soils.

3. Grease and oil: This is the most difficult type of soiling to remove from kitchen floors. However, it can typically be removed using degreasers, a deck brush and removal via vacuuming up the grease and oil deposits. Once again, wet mopping can prove ineffective.

We should also note that every kitchen floor is made up of two key areas. The open area, even if it has fixtures sitting on it, is the main part of the kitchen floor. But the surrounding area, along walls and edges, is the second area, and it too must be well maintained. The edge areas are often the first scrutinized by health inspectors. Why? Because many floor cleaning technicians fail in detailing — which is how we refer to cleaning these areas. Or, they are using a mop and the mop deposits soils in these areas as part of the mopping process.

Omni System

We have already pointed out that mopping commercial kitchen floors is not recommended. The mop tends to spread soils, especially along the edges, but in addition, the cleaning solution in the bucket quickly becomes soiled. As it becomes soiled, the chemicals lose their effectiveness and eventually contribute to this spreading of soils.

Two options are possible. The first one is referred to as a “dispense-and-vac” cleaning system. In 2012, this technology was one of the recipients of the National Restaurant Association Kitchen Innovations Award.™ The technology was given the award for three key reasons. First, the cleaning solution is deposited directly onto the floor via a spigot underneath the trolley bucket. No mops are used and the solution always remains fresh. The floor can be decked down if necessary, especially to loosen grease and soil. Finally, once this step is completed, the entire area can be vacuumed by the machine, pulling soils and moisture off the floor and ensuring it dries within minutes.

Another option is to use a floor scrubbing alternative known as an “autovac.” Once again, cleaning solution is deposited directly onto the floor. As the cleaning worker moves the machine over the floor, an attached microfiber brush provides the agitation to loosen soils, which are then collected by a squeegee and vacuumed up by the machine. In comparative tests performed by the TURI Laboratory of the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, this system removed up to 99.8% of targeted soil, edging out a traditional autoscrubber and significantly outperforming a new microfiber mop.

Both of these cleaning alternatives have advantages that make them more effective at cleaning restaurant kitchen floors. The processes more aggressively remove soils and moisture since both are vacuumed up and totally removed from the floor’s surface. As this occurs, bacteria can no longer thrive in commercial kitchen floor pores and grout. This improvement is one that should make the cleaner, the manager and the health inspector very happy.

— Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and hospitality industries.

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