I was asked to help solve a problem concerning cross contamination and product quality control in one of the smaller fruit juice factories in our area yesterday. The factory in question has a capacity to produce 72,000 liters of various fruit juices, fruit drinks and fruit nectar and ice teas. The factory basically consists of two departments, a mixing department and a bottling department. The products are either packed in glass bottles, plastic bottles or tetra pak cartons.
All of the concentrates are poured into the 18,000 liter vats via a barrel tipping machine and a suction device for rotoplasts. The concentrates are pumped through a pipe console which directs the concentrates in to one of four vats in the mixing department.
The factory had started producing tomato juice several months ago and since the onset of this production the company has been experiencing problems with the shelf life and color of products. They had tried every way they could imagine to clean the pipes leading into the tanks but to no avail. Tomato paste is very thick and viscose which makes it a difficult product to work with. Tomato paste tends to travel through pipes in pulses and because of this it coats the pipes evenly from the inside. Thinner and less solid substances such as caustic soda solution tends to run along the bottom of pipes and will only reach the top extremities for brief moments. This makes cleaning tomato paste particularly problematic.
I could smell the presence of tomato concentrate coming out of all of the pipes. There was no question that there was a grave danger of the tomato residue in the pipes fermenting. After a little thought this was my solution to the problem:
1) only to use two of the tanks for producing tomato paste. The effect this would have would be to reduce any possible risk by 50% from the outset.
2) to install separate feed pipes into those two tanks for tomato paste. This would leave the pipes for other products uncontaminated by tomato paste.
3) To dilute the tomato paste with 50% chilled water in a 500 liter mixing tank which was already on site.(2 degrees centigrade) prior to being pumped into the tanks. This would cause the concentrate to be less viscose and much easier to clean during the CIP process.
4)To dissemble and to clean the pump on the barrel tipping machine after every use.
5) To dissemble all pipes weekly and to immerse them in caustic soda solution.
6) To clean all pneumatic valves with a special industrial pipe cleaning brush from all directions.
At the end of the meeting with the department head, production manager, head of quality control and the general manager, all my suggestions were accepted and will be implemented within one working week. I will conduct a follow up check one month from today.
Last week I received a phone call from the head office of a catering company that operates a number of large kitchens up and down the country. The voice at the other end of the line asked me to conduct an independent kitchen hygiene survey in one of their kitchens. I was asked to do a check which included inspecting the condition of the kitchen before and at the time of the arrival of the staff for work. The purpose of this check was to check the level of food hygiene awareness of the staff and the application of food hygiene training in practice, to see if the chef had conducted an adequate inspection of the kitchen before releasing the staff at the end of the shift and to look into the level of pest interaction with the kitchen overnight.
I have done this kind of check before. My job was to walk around the kitchen, dining room and storage areas of the kitchen and to submit a written report within two hours of finishing the inspection to the head office. If my finding were below a certain standard a Representative from head office would visit the kitchen in the early afternoon and hold an emergency meeting with the kitchen manager and the chef. The kitchen manager had been told of my scheduled visit at eleven o’clock on the evening before the visit.
I have to stress this is a kitchen which has had no serious cases of food poisoning in it’s entire history. Considering the findings of the report this may seem surprising to you. As I have stated before, most of us never really know that we are walking along a food contamination knife edge. I cannot allow you to see my written report due to client confidentiality but I can let you read my verbal notes which I recorded on my pocket recorder at the time of the inspection.
I arrived at the rear delivery ramp of the kitchen at five thirty in the morning. One half hour before the kitchen staff were due to arrive. The managers and two dining room workers were already on site.
The points will be numbered:
1) Three pallets left unattended on the ramp.
2) Crows pecking sweet corn kernels on the fresh veg pallet.
3) Middle pallet containing fresh chicken legs, blood dripping onto ramp, flies starting to land on the boxes.
4) Vegetable fridge door left open.
5) Dry produce store room door left open.
6) Sparrows flying in and out of dry store room.
7) Cleaning chemicals left on ramp from day before.
8) Dirty service trolleys left on ramp from day before.
9) Water hose pipe left uncoiled from day before.
10) Empty produce boxes left on ramp from day before.
11) Work surfaces dirty with water stains from day before, underside of tables dirty, table legs dirty. Dried raw chicken pieces found stuck on two table legs.
12) Shelves above work tables cluttered with disposable coffee cups. Cigarette buts inside coffee cups. Dirty plates, bowls and cutlery left on shelves. Dead flies on shelves. Shelves show no evidence of being cleaned.
13) Cobwebs in corners of ceilings.
14) Unclean linings in bread baskets.
15) Dirty cooking trays left in water overnight.
16) Dining room manager spraying degreaser onto barbecue grill vent in close proximity to food being set out for breakfast.
17) Egg trays on work surfaces in dining room and kitchen.
18) Unwashed parsley, dill and coriander put onto work table surface by kitchen worker.
19) Boxes of unwashed vegetables put onto work tables by kitchen staff.
20) Box of unwashed red peppers placed on top of chopping board.
21) Combi steamers greasy and with fallen food on oven floor.
22) Electronic thermoporters unclean. Water trays not emptied. Dirty water and thick layer of lime in water trays apparently not changed for several days.
23) Bad smell coming from inside dish washing machine. Filters not cleaned at the end of the night shift.
24) Fryer lids sticky and greasy.
25) Cockroaches coming out of fryer side panels after being turned on.
26) Small particles of food and stains evident on ceramic wall tiling behind cooking pots and fryers.
27) Stagnant water in cleaned plastic tubs. Tubs not inverted after washing.
28) Bread cutting machine left untidy with thick layer of crumbs let on the machine and floor after use.
29) Meat slicing machine not cleaned with soapAfter use. Fatty lawyer evident after previous day’s use.
30) Plastic tubs containing thawed raw meat left uncovered in fridge.
31) Condensed water dripping onto food trolleys from fridge ceiling.
32) Food trolleys in fridge not covered.
33) Fridge temperature gauge not working.
34) Evidence of mildew, liquid egg, and various sauces on fridge shelving.
35) Fridge floors wet and muddy.
36) Service trolleys not properly cleaned at the end of the day and not being cleaned between tasks.
37) Head Chef wearing very dirty trousers.
38) Staff smoking and drinking coffee in the kitchen.
39) Staff rest area not cleaned the day before, coffee cups and dirty eating plates and cutlery left on tables. Floor filthy. Cat present in staff eating and rest area.
40) Staff not wearing head covering and failing to wash hands before entering the kitchen area.
41) Disposable surgical gloves left on work surfaces after use.
42) No Liners in trash cans.
43) Boxes of frozen vegetables left on kitchen floor by store staff.
44) Rats seen in empty box collection cage.
45) Cats seen in most areas around kitchen and dining room.
46) Birds seen in Kitchen store and in dining room.
48) Blocked sink in vegetable cleaning area. No sign of technical staff for twenty minutes.
49) Meat left to thaw outside of fridge.
These were my findings within the period of forty five minutes of arriving in the catering kitchen. As you can well imagine my grading was not very favorable on that particular day. I know that the head chef and kitchen manager were place on probation in view of these findings. A repeat survey is to take place within a period of one month.
One job that people really fear doing most in commercial kitchens is cleaning the tough grease off equipment, drains and vents. Why? Because it nearly always involves the use of strong caustic soda based substances.
These substances cause injuries if not handled properly. They can cause blindness if they get into eyes, they can cause breathing problems and they can cause severe chemical burns to the skin. In addition they are a food safety hazard and there is always the risk that they will enter food that is in the work area.
I have used these substances for many years because we really had no other solutions to the cleaning challenges we had to deal with on a daily basis. I used to dread having to use these substances and yet, being the type of person I am I would do most of this work myself because I knew that my staff would cause themselves injury.
However, there is no longer a reason to use such potentially dangerous substances because we have now entered the era of the steam vapour cleaning system. Whereby formally you would spread degreasers onto a surface or scrape a surface for hours on end with a spatula now you can do the same work in a very short space of time using a steam vapour cleaning system.
In commercial kitchens not all work surfaces or cooking trays are stainless steel. It is better if they are but some products use aluminium to make a product less expensive. The advantage with the steam vapour cleaning system is that it cleans any surface, stainless steel, ceramic, aluminium, rubber, plastic, wood or Teflon.
It will clean, grease, grime, mould and lime. What’s more you don’t have to evacuate a twenty meter radius when using it. Once the hard grease and grime is off it becomes easy to maintain clean surfaces because very little time is needed for maintenance. In fact, the only chemical you will regularly need in your kitchen is ordinary washing up detergent. I strongly advise using a steam vapour cleaning system in all types of kitchens. Remember, the cleaner you kitchen is kept, the fewer vermin problems you will have and the easier it becomes to clean your kitchen the cleaner it will be kept.