From rags to riches, why the restaurant industry needs to wipe away the stigma around cleaning

Customers should never have to settle when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness. Recent cases of restaurant closures and fines due to poor hygiene standards have become all too common and a large part of this has to do with the UK culture around cleaning.

Too often, restaurants are concerned about leaving cleaning products in view of customers for fear of making the restaurant seem untidy and cluttered. But, this viewpoint is outdated and getting in the way of maintaining a safe environment.

The UK has 33,000 cases of salmonella poisoning each year with 2,500 of these resulting in hospitalisation which costs the NHS more than £1.5 billion. But what can be done to help? Part of the problem is the poor image of cleaning with old fashioned cloths and trigger sprays, deemed as acceptable by consumers However, this is one of the most common causes behind cross-contamination and community acquired infections.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommends the use of disposable cloths or wipes wherever possible, for both front and back-of-house[1]. Cloths and sprays are most commonly used but this is a dangerous practice and contributes to breaking health and safety regulations.

If cloths are not thoroughly washed, disinfected and dried between each use, it risks the spread of bacteria and allergens that cause foodborne illnesses.

Single-use wipes are the gold standard in food hygiene but are often overlooked for cosmetic reasons and for the incorrect assumption that they aren’t as effective as cloths.

The reality is that wipes are more effectual at holding onto bacteria and bio-film to prevent cross-contamination and will inevitably be fresh and clean for each new use. This provides restaurant managers with peace of mind that their customers and staff are healthy and at a reduced risk of harm. In turn, this improves the delivery of food safety and enhanced guest appearance one wipe at a time.

The US began to change this mindset more than four decades ago. Both major chains and high-end restaurants have long since started using disposable, sanitised wipes in place of cloths and often these are visible front-of-house.

While changeovers between dining sittings are rapid, it is not a negative issue for customers in the US to see staff cleaning. In fact, it is the reverse. It provides reassurance and comfort that not only will the customer be having a fantastic meal, but the restaurant takes food hygiene seriously and they will be dining in a clean and safe environment.

While this viewpoint is slowly coming to the UK, it is an issue that needs to be more broadly recognised. Sani Professional recently conducted a survey revealing that whilst 60% of food service industry professionals believe that a restaurant’s cleanliness affects its reputation more so than food quality or poor service, 45% wrongly believe trigger sprays and cloths are the most effective way of cleaning restaurant tables.

If we want to improve food hygiene standards in the UK, education and consensus must be reached by the industry as to what practices and methods must be adhered to, above and beyond simply meeting regulations set by the FSA. This will be the first port of call in starting that culture change.

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