Restaurant Cleaning Tip #1: Focus on Preventing Foodborne Illness 

The outbreak of food-related diseases like E. coli and the Norovirus have affected the reputations and long-term success of many restaurants in the United States, including Chipotle, which is still struggling to clear its name years after a widespread E. coli scandal. 

Especially during a viral outbreak like COVID-19, make sure to enforce proper handwashing. All staff must wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds — that’s two full “Happy Birthday” songs — even during the rush, and even if they’re worried a steak will overcook in the meantime. Preventing the transmission of viruses is the number one priority.

Foodborne illness can be attributed to bacteria, which can multiply quickly when food is kept at what is considered to be an unsafe temperature: above 41 degrees and below 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria can also produce toxins that make food unsafe for consumption.

Other factors that can contribute to foodborne illnesses in restaurants include:

  • Improper washing of hands (including fingernails).
  • Staff coming in sick and coughing or sneezing near prep surfaces or on food.
  • Poor storage of food items.
  • Cross-contamination (toxins from uncooked meat can be transferred to vegetables used in salads).
  • Improperly cleaned cooking equipment and eating utensils.
  • Contamination of work areas, equipment, utensils.
  • Food that’s been exposed to cockroaches, flies, and other restaurant pests.

E. coli contamination, norovirus infection, and food poisoning are some of the critical food safety issues that you must always avoid at all costs. Make sure all of your surfaces are sanitized, ingredients are stored safely, and food is properly prepared to ensure customers leave your restaurant full and satisfied, not in need of hospitalization.

Restaurant Cleaning Tip #2: Check the Health Department’s Guidelines

Many restaurants shudder at the thought of a health and safety inspection. If your restaurant receives a bad inspection score, it may need to close temporarily or display a “B” or “C” grade in its window, both of which could cost your business thousands of dollars in lost sales. A study by Baruch College at the City University of New York found that 88% of New Yorkers use the city’s health department letter grades in making their dining decisions, and 76% feel more confident eating in an “A” grade restaurant.

Don’t wait for a bad health score to happen to your restaurant before setting the bar on food safety. Instead, use the health department standards as guidelines to inform the food safety and cleaning processes in your restaurant. After all, the standards are there to help businesses deliver top-notch service and maintain a safe, sanitary eating and drinking establishment. Check with your city’s health department, or whichever department conducts health inspections, to get the complete list of what an inspector is looking for when evaluating your front- and back of house. And as we mentioned above, during a health crisis, follow the CDC’s recommendations to prevent the spread of viruses.

For example, if the health code states that salad bar containers must be cleaned at least every 24 hours, make removing and cleaning all the salad bar containers at the end of each shift a part of the daily routine. This way, cleaning becomes a habit for your team and you’ll never have to worry if your restaurant kitchen is compliant. 

If your restaurant receives low marks from an inspection, respond constructively and cooperate fully with authorities to learn what systems your restaurant needs to have in place in order to be compliant and operate a safe establishment. In cities like New York, Milwaukee, and Toronto where Department of Health ratings must be on public display, a Grade A sign in the window can help bring new customers in the door, so it’s important to make sure you’re crossing all your T’s and dotting your I’s when it comes to health and safety inspections. 

For more support navigating inspections, Relevant Systems and Berger Food Safety Consulting are offering a comprehensive re-opening action plan with best-practices, legal documentation requirements, and detailed food safety procedures. 

Restaurant Cleaning Tip #3: Prevent Pest Proliferation

Make sure to keep your restaurant pest-free by reducing the opportunities for critters to get a free lunch. Here are a few restaurant cleaning best practices that prevent pests:  

  • Wipe up food residue in coolers. 
  • Always clean equipment quickly after use.
  • Don’t let food-contact surfaces get dirty and greasy.
  • Store food in airtight containers.
  • Move trash bags to the dumpster rather than letting them sit around the kitchen.
  • Capture stray fruit flies with a small cup of soap mixed with tequila or apple cider vinegar.

Of course, don’t hesitate to call in the professionals from pest control when needed. What crawls in the kitchen always makes its way out in one way, shape, or form and you don’t want that to be on a plate or in a glass. 

If you see any of the following signs of pests, don’t wait until you’ve got a full-scale invasion on your hands to act. Here are some signs you may have crawly things in your kitchen or behind the bar:

  • Roach or rodent droppings.
  • Shredded cardboard or paper for rodent nesting.
  • Sounds of scratching or skittering in the walls.
  • Cardboard or plastic containers that appear to have been chewed upon.
  • Unusual odors which could be from dead rodents or large roach populations.
  • Small piles of dirt from ant movement.
  • Flying insects around food storage and prep areas (catch them now before they make their way into the dining room, or into someone’s soup).

Much like hair in your food, the signs of pest infestation are enough to make a guests’ stomach turn. An affected kitchen runs the risk of alienating current and would-be guests: All it takes is one poor online review saying there were flies in the air or ants running across the table for your reputation to be tarnished. 

And when the health inspector pays a visit or receives a report of pests, they can have your restaurant closed down because of sanitation and food safety issues.

Kitchen Checklist

Restaurant Cleaning Tip #4: Train Staff to Prioritize Food Safety

In a restaurant, several pairs of hands handle food before it reaches a customer. Educating and training your entire staff, front- and back-of-house, in proper hygiene, food safety, and overall cleanliness is key to making sure every guest has a safe, sanitary dining experience — and this training is even more crucial during health crises.

Restaurant training is not a one-time thing, especially when it comes to food safety. You need to consistently follow up with your staff when it comes to the restaurant cleaning and food safety standards you have put in place. It’s important to see that everyone is doing things the way they should be done every day, not just the days immediately after a training session. To keep things in check, try the following:

  • Post reminders on particular cleaning procedures in strategic places like above the sink and next to the time clock.
  • Regularly share short training videos with restaurant cleaning tips via email.
  • Spot check staff cleaning behavior just as the health department would (grades optional).
  • Celebrate exemplary cleaning habits among your team so others might model their behavior.

Restaurant Cleaning Tip #5: Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes

Abiding by Health Department guidelines will do most of the work for you when it comes to maintaining a clean restaurant, but to truly deliver a clean and enjoyable experience for your guests, put yourself in their shoes and make sure you aren’t overlooking any aspects of the dining experience that could use a cleaning. Here are a few things to consider: 

  • Is the restaurant’s entryway tidy and welcoming — the walkway free of litter and the windows clean and sparking?
  • Is the host stand uncluttered, the banquettes free of dust, the menus clean of smudges?
  • Have tables and floors been properly wiped and swept since the last seating, and napkins, condiments, and table arrangements reset?
  • Are the bathrooms clean, odor-free, and stocked with toilet paper, towels, and soap?

Audit the cleanliness of your dining experience by having a member of your staff have a test meal. From the moment they’re seated until they complete the payment process, have them record any aspects of their dining experience — the menu, the salt and pepper shakers, or the window sills, for example — that need a cleaning. This list will give your team a better idea of areas you may habitually overlook when cleaning your restaurant that could leave a bad taste in your guests mouths. 


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