Food Safety Food Manager

7 Common Cleaning Mistakes Your Health Inspector is Looking For

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Trust20 Contributors • 11 minute read

As someone in the foodservice industry, you already know how important maintaining a clean and sanitary establishment is.

Unfortunately, we often tend to think about the biggies–keeping rats out of the kitchen, washing the dishes, wiping down tables or service trays–and overlook some of the other less noticeable areas.

Bacteria on the expo line can be just as dangerous as bacteria on a customer’s drinking glass. You have to stay vigilant in order to prevent the spread of germs and keep customers (and staff) safe.

Yet even the most diligent of cleaning teams can miss certain areas and items. 

In this blog, we’ll explore some of the most common cleaning mistakes and misses in a foodservice establishment and offer some tips on how to prevent these oversights in the future.

7 Common Areas That Need a Closer Look When Cleaning

  1. The Host Stand and Entry Area

  2. Server Stands

  3. Dining Area

  4. Bathroom

  5. Kitchen

  6. Expo Line

  7. Storage Areas

A Few More Tips to Help You Stay Inspection-Ready

How You Can Prepare and Stay Ready for a Health Inspector at Any Time

Streamline Your Cleaning Routines With Trust20

Later in this post, we’ll give you some tips on how to make sure your facility is health inspection-ready at any time. However, it’s important to first address the elephant in the room–what are we missing when we’re cleaning? Let's get into it!

7 Common Areas That Need a Closer Look When Cleaning

Let’s take an entire restaurant as an example (though these rules apply to any establishment serving food, including hospital or school kitchens). We’ll break it down into seven sections so you can clearly see where your own establishment might be lacking.

1. The Host Stand and Entry Area

Customers’ first impression of your establishment is formed in the entry area. This means that it should receive extra attention, and deep cleaning should be done regularly. 

Some common areas that might be overlooked include doorknobs, menus, highchairs, booster seats, and the host’s stand. Ensure that the host's podium is cleaned with disinfectants regularly.

To avoid missing any spots, put yourself in your customer's shoes and walk through the entryway, touch all surfaces, and see where dirt or grime streaks with your finger. 

Clean these areas and frequently sanitize and/or change out items that physically interact with customers (for example, menus, ketchup and mustard bottles, and salt and pepper shakers).

2. Server Stations

Server stations are typically busy and always in use, which can lead to misses in cleaning–there’s no downtime here.

Some of the most common areas that are overlooked on server stands include touch screens on POS systems, salt and pepper shakers, sugar caddies, drink dispensers, and trays. Be sure to wipe down these items after every use and deep clean with disinfectant regularly.

Also, server stations can become cluttered with dirty silverware or dishes. Ensure the server stand area is cleaned after every shift, and be conscientious about not overloading the area during the busiest times.

3. Dining Area

Dining areas are where customers will be sitting for an extended time, and they’re also the areas of the establishment where you’re going to get the most complaints if you’re not diligent about cleaning. Customers notice when the table is sticky or if there are crumbs under the chairs!

Make sure to clean dining chairs, table and table legs, partitions, and the vending machines too. These are some of the most high-touch areas that are frequently missed. As with server stands, it is essential to wipe down these areas after each customer leaves and deep clean at the end of the day.

4. Bathroom

Even in the cleanest of bathrooms, there are many places that are often missed. Make sure to pay attention to things like the underside of the toilet seat, the base of the toilet, and the area around the toilet handle. 

If you have a grout-based floor, make sure to clean it with a grout-specific cleaner and scrub brush, as regular mopping may not get all the dirt out of the cracks. 

Don't forget to clean the sink and the faucet handles, which tend to harbor a lot of germs and must be kept squeaky at all times. 

5. Kitchen

In a busy kitchen, it's easy to forget about some areas that need to be cleaned just as much as the cooking surfaces. Make sure to clean the walls, especially behind stoves and fryers, which can accumulate grease and other contaminants.

Under and behind large equipment is another area that's often missed, so be sure to move things around periodically to get a better clean.

Ensure to also clean the hood and exhaust fans, which can accumulate grease and other debris that can be a fire hazard. Some hoods and exhaust fans can be difficult due to the height and proximity to the stove, so hire a professional cleaning service to tackle this on a regular basis.

The seal around your fridge and freezer doors can easily become coated in dirt, grease, and other grime, which can make it harder to keep cold air in and bacteria out. Make sure to clean these gaskets regularly with a mild cleaning solution to keep them clean and functioning properly.

Similarly, soda fountain nozzles can easily become clogged and coated in bacteria, leading to off-tasting soda and potential health hazards. Make sure to dismantle these nozzles and soak them in a sanitizing solution regularly, ideally every evening, following the instructions from the manufacturer for proper cleaning.

The coils and vents behind your refrigerator can easily become clogged with dirt and debris, which can lead to poor refrigeration and a higher risk of foodborne illness. Make sure to clean these areas regularly with a soft brush or vacuum to keep them functioning properly.

Large equipment, such as ovens, ranges, and refrigerators, can be difficult to move and clean beneath. However, cleaning these areas to remove debris and avoid potential hazards is important. Consider using a lift or dolly to move the equipment so you can give them a good cleaning.

Finally, floor drains can easily become clogged with food debris and grime, which can lead to bad odors and health hazards. Make sure to clean these drains often with an antimicrobial cleaner to prevent buildup and bacterial growth.

6. Expo Line

As the last stop before food heads towards the customer, a clean expo line is essential to preventing contamination (and cross-contact!).

Clean the cutting boards, utensils, and surfaces in this area thoroughly between uses to avoid cross-contamination and the spread of harmful bacteria.

The area where cold food is prepared and served can also easily become a breeding ground for bacteria if not cleaned properly. Make sure to regularly clean the surfaces and walls in this area and the containers and pans used to hold the food.

7. Storage Areas

Storage areas, such as pantries and shelves, can easily become dirty and cluttered, making it difficult to find ingredients and maintain proper stock rotation. 

Clean and organize these areas at least several times a year by using proper date labels and storage procedures to reduce the risk of contamination and spoilage.

A Few More Tips to Help You Stay Inspection-Ready

The cleaning checklist above should help you get a handle on which areas of your establishment are staying mostly clean–and which need some work.

But if you want to make sure you’re ready for an inspection at the drop of a hat, here are a few more tips to follow. 

Make Sure You Have Accessible Hand Sinks

Every hand sink should be equipped with soap and paper towels–and frequently restocked to avoid running out during peak hours.

Your team should also be trained on proper hand-washing techniques and encouraged to use the sinks regularly. This simple step can go a long way!

Provide Access to Cleaning Equipment at All Times

Every team member should always have access to cleaning equipment and PPE. This includes gloves, sanitizer, cleaning chemicals, and other necessary tools.

You should also have a policy in place for glove usage to prevent cross-contamination and other food safety issues. 

Signage Matters!

You need to make sure you have adequate signage, including those reminding staff to wash their hands regularly, posters outlining food safety procedures, and notices alerting customers of any potential allergens. 

Missing or outdated signs can result in deductions during an inspection, so it's important to make sure your signage is up-to-date and clearly visible to everyone in your establishment.

Clean Inside of Garbage Cans 

While it may seem like a small detail, keeping the inside of your garbage cans clean is one of the most overlooked steps in maintaining an inspection-ready environment. Make sure you clean the inside of your trash cans regularly and sanitize them, especially during peak hours. 

Store Food Properly

One of the most basic and important steps in staying inspection-ready is to ensure your refrigeration units are properly organized

The most important aspect here is to make sure you’re storing your food properly to prevent cross-contamination. For example, chicken should be stored on a higher shelf than vegetables, while processes for storing expired or out-of-date food should be a core element of your training plan for every team member. 

A thermometer should be regularly used to check that foods are within the proper temperature range, and temperature logs need to be maintained and easily accessible.

Keep Good Records

Speaking of logs, good record-keeping should be at the core of any cleaning regimen. It’s important not only for legal compliance but also when it comes to tracking you and your team’s cleaning routine.

Keep records of when food is received, cooked, served, and discarded. This will help you identify and prevent outbreaks of foodborne illness. 

Be Mindful of How Chemicals are Stored

You need to have plenty of cleaning supplies on hand, but be mindful of how they are stored. 

Follow the storage instructions for each product, and don’t keep them within close proximity to food. Label and dispose of all chemicals properly. 

Address Employee Hygiene

Ensure your team members maintain proper personal hygiene by washing their hands frequently.

They should also cover their hair with hats and hairnets when working in the kitchen to prevent the spread of contaminants. This not only protects the safety of your customer, but also creates a more professional environment. 

Don’t Forget Customers’ High-Touch Areas

Don’t forget high-touch areas in the dining area, either! Make sure you’re wiping down things like ketchup and condiment bottles, salt and pepper shakers, and even glasses that hold bar garnishes on a regular basis. These also need to be sanitized regularly.

They might seem like small details, but they’re so important when it comes to protecting the health of everyone in the building and maintaining customer trust. 

Keep Personal Items Out of Food Prep Areas

Obviously, your team members are going to need to stay hydrated and fed during the day, but personal items (like beverages) should stay out of the food prep area. These could easily spill over, contaminating the food and compromising the cleanliness of the entire area.

Don’t Forget Fans and Light Fixtures

Overhead fixtures like fans and light fixtures can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria and dust. They are often overlooked during the cleaning process, yet they are located in areas where they can easily spread dust particles all over your establishment.  Make sure you wipe these down once a week or so.

Address the Areas Where Tall Corners Meet the Ceiling (Hello, Cobwebs!)

Cobwebs, dust, and debris often accumulate in tall corners where the ceiling meets the wall. These areas are often overlooked during cleaning, yet they contribute significantly to the overall cleanliness of your establishment. 

Use extension tools to clean these areas on a regular basis, which will help prevent the accumulation of dust and debris.

How You Can Prepare and Stay Ready for a Health Inspector at Any Time

Health inspections can happen at any time–the inspector doesn’t care if it’s your busiest day of the year or if you are short-staffed.

If your establishment is always inspection-ready, you won’t have to manage the stress of scrambling when a health inspection takes place–and it ensures that food is always being produced in a safe environment.

Read on for a few tips for staying inspection-ready.

Use Labels for Food Prep

First and foremost, it's important to properly label any food that has been removed from its original container. This includes ingredients, prepared food, and anything else that has a date of use. A proper label should include the date the item was prepared and the name of the item.

Not only does this help with organization, but it also ensures that food is being used in a timely manner.

Additional information that can be included on the label is the name of the person who prepared the item, what time the item was prepared, and the end date describing when the item should be discarded.

Have a Deep Cleaning List

In addition to daily cleaning tasks, it's important to have a deep cleaning list for less frequent cleaning tasks. This list should include items that need to be cleaned weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. 

Some examples of items that can be included in a deep cleaning list are ovens, refrigerators, exhaust hoods, and storage areas. Make sure to check this list regularly to ensure proper completion.

Do Personal Inspections

One of the best ways to stay prepared for a health inspection is to go through your establishment the same way a health inspector would. This means looking for potential safety hazards, cleanliness issues, and anything else that may be concerning. 

A personal inspection is best done monthly to ensure everything is regularly up to regulations. This also gives you, and your team an opportunity to fix any issues before a health inspector has a chance to find them.

Talk to Your Team About Food Safety 

Your team must be aware of the importance of food safety and why regulations exist. They can follow the latest food safety tests and regulations by keeping your team updated with the latest food safety tests and regulations. Simple as that. 

Educate your team on the common violations, and coach them on how to avoid them most efficiently. If everyone fully understands why and how to maintain critical safety standards for food, your establishment can reduce the risk of failing a health inspection.

Streamline Your Cleaning Routines With Trust20

Cleaning misses can be costly for any food service establishment, but with Trust20's comprehensive training programs, you can ensure that your team is up-to-date with the latest industry standards and regulations. Plus, you’ll ensure every team member knows exactly what’s expected.

By addressing the common mistakes and misses covered in this blog, you can improve your establishment's cleanliness, hygiene, and safety–and build a reputation for excellence and trust with your customers.

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