Some newer automated products can help you keep your kitchenwares and surfaces cleaner than ever before. But clean is no longer enough. The importance of true sanitation — eliminating microbes and pathogens — is vital. With many municipalities setting high standards, the need for disinfecting equipment is mandatory. Many jurisdictions are requiring HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plans. These plans often need to outline steps you're taking to prevent the spread of foodborne illness by eliminating pathogens on food contact surfaces. Here are a few items that will help you deal with dirt and grease in the kitchen and on your equipment, as well as some innovative surface sanitizers.
Recirculating Soakers. Recirculating soakers are fairly new to restaurants. The soakers do all the work of getting baked-on soil off pots and pans and other kitchenwares, though some manual scrubbing may be necessary. The unit is basically a big water pump built into a pot sink, but that's an oversimplification. The cleaning principle behind these units is simply water agitation or water moving over and around soiled pots and pans to loosen and wash away food particles and dirt. Fast-moving water will quickly loosen light to medium soil. Heavy soil and baked- on carbon deposits may require some scraping and scrubbing. Some systems also have built in heaters that work in conjunction with the circulating jets to keep water warm to aid in loosening soil.
Some recirculating soakers are small fractional horsepower attachments to a pot sink that loop water through a pump at one end of the sink. These units can be effective and are reasonably priced. All that is required to retrofit most pot sinks are an electrical outlet and a mechanic to make the appropriate cut out in your sink.
If you have a large operation or use a lot of labor to wash pots, you may want to consider some of the larger units. Most of these units are bought as an entire specialized pot sink and cannot be retrofitted into an existing sink. Some units can be expensive, but can do much more than the small recirculators.
One of the large units fabricated may have a 1½- or 2-horsepower motor with water intakes and outlet jets perfectly positioned in a properly sized sink bowl. The manufacturers of these units generally offer a wide range of three-compartment sink sizes with various options. The units are custom-built for your operation and the space configuration available. Remember, these large recirculators generally require 208 volt service for the water pump and high wattage heater.
Wash sinks in these units have up to 75 gallons of water capacity to handle many pots and pans. Some of the other options available with the recirculator sinks include built-in waste disposers, drain boards of various lengths, shelves over or under, and additional scrapper sinks. The heater included for the wash tank is meant to keep the water at around 120°F.
Pressure Washers. Pressure washers can help clean kitchens and offer some reduction in water and chemical usage over traditional clean-up methods. There are several types of units sized and equipped for different applications. The most popular style is a single wall-mount unit requiring only a water source and a standard 120-volt electrical outlet. The units typically have a built-in pump, hose reel and an inlet for detergent to be directly injected into the water stream. Hose lengths of 30-35 feet are standard, but lengths up to 100 feet are often available. With a 100-foot radius for spray cleaning, a centrally located unit may be all that is needed for a small- to medium-size operation.
There are several other types of basic units made for larger operations, some having additional features or multiple hoses. One manufacturer has a compact system that mounts under a counter. Another system is portable and can be used outside or in. The portable pressure washer only needs an electric outlet to connect to its extension cord and an ordinary hose for a water supply.
One pressure washer is available with a master unit that can be located in a service room. Installed piping can then lead to nozzles at each point of use. A nozzle can even be located outside on the loading dock or adjacent to the parking lot for outdoor wash down. The pressure washer system has portable hose reels that can be rolled to the point of use for quick clean up, then moved to the next nozzle site. Typical water usage can be about three gallons per minute, about one-third of the water used by a hose.
Spray Sanitizer. Several spray sanitizer systems are available, including one that uses water, salt and electricity to produce an environmentally friendly, food-safe sanitizing solution. Other units change the pH of the water to make it more acidic or alkaline to sanitize. These units achieve the same end result — food and surface sanitizing. All these items require only an electrical outlet and a water connection.
Some spray sanitizers have a large tank for holding disinfecting solutions. Attached is a spray nozzle with a hose that can be used for cleaning and washing. The solution can be sprayed on surfaces to disinfect. Since there are no caustic or harmful chemicals, and the disinfecting water used is non-toxic, it can be used for washing produce, seafood or other food products. The sanitizer essentially makes a natural antimicrobial, not unlike that produced by the human body to fight infectious pathogens. This unit will kill a broad range of harmful pathogens and spoilage organisms while reducing odors. It can be used to enhance product shelf life and reduce produce oxidation/browning.
Kitchen Air Sanitizer. Another manufacturer has taken the approach of sanitizing the air in the kitchen rather than the surfaces. This item may prove to be a revolutionary new part of kitchens of the future. The equipment operates without using chemicals by only using the air in the kitchen. The system operates 24 hours per day to kill bacteria, mold and viruses. It also reduces odor in the kitchen. While it doesn't do the scrubbing and washing you still need to do, it goes a long way to enhance your existing HACCP and sanitation programs.
The unit works like this. Air in the kitchen passes through a high voltage reaction chamber, and ozone plus hydrogen peroxide are released to sanitize air and surfaces the air comes in contact with. These molecules will kill microorganisms wherever they come into contact with them. Yet the molecules quickly disperse as they bond together into normal oxygen. With just the kitchen air, the central “power pack” unit creates harmless chemicals that sanitize for you.
If a kitchen area is relatively small, a single unit will be able to cover a few hundred square feet. A larger kitchen will need a perforated pipe system running from a large power pack around the perimeter of your kitchen. Ozone will be dispersed through the kitchen. The system is unobtrusive and requires nothing on the part of your staff to operate or maintain. Those working in the kitchen will not notice the system in operation. There is no smell or health risk to staff working in the kitchen. There are units for various kitchen sizes.
Nobody likes to clean because it's hard, dirty work. However, equipment manufacturers have come up with ways to take some of the drudgery and hard work out of washing and floor clean-up.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. Bendall can be reached at 301-926-8181.