Monthly Archive for July, 2008

Chemical Cleaning Mistakes To Avoid

Do you make these mistakes in your facility?

That’s right, chemicals can kill! I am a qualified chef, food technologist and food safety auditor and if you knew what some food businesses were doing behind closed doors, I am sure it would shock you.
  • What do you know about your cleaning chemicals?
  • How safe are they?
  • Is price the best way decide on which chemical to use?
  • What should my chemical supplier be telling me?
I have just finished a food safety audit on a child care center. The center was trying to do the right thing by the environment and had purchased cleaning chemicals in good faith from a supplier who made claims about their chemicals containing natural ingredients and being safer for the environment. Now I am all for making the world a greener place and I try to be as energy conscious as I can, however this is what I found:
  • The chemicals came in flat pack bags, that reduced space during transport and storage and were intended to be diluted by the end user of the product prior to use. There were two labels for the same product (sanitiser), which contradicted each other (it meant that one product when diluted was 100 times more concentrated than the other (remember these chemicals are coming in contact with food contact surfaces)
  • All of the labels stated that chemicals should be diluted into a 5 litre container, apart from one, that needed to be diluted into a 20 litre container. The company only provided a 5 litre container in which to dilute the product (what do you do with an open bag of cleaning chemical???)
  • The food surface sanitiser and window cleaner were both the same colour.
  • The label of the sanitiser indicated that the product should be blue (when diluted the chemical was red). It was later discovered that the person responsible for mixing the chemicals, decided one day to change the colour – it should have been blue.
  • The chemical that should have been red was a degreaser
  • The material safety data sheet for the detergent indicated that the chemical should be green. The chemical was yellow.

Cleaning chemicals are vital in providing a safe food working environment, however they are also very dangerous if not used properly. I have three very simple rules for the storage of chemicals in food businesses:

  1. Chemicals must be clearly labelled
  2. Chemicals must be stored away from food storage and preparation areas
  3. Chemicals must not be stored in the same containers as food

Your chemical supplier should provide you with a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) the first time that they supply you with chemicals. The MSDS should contain:

  • Name of chemical
  • The name and contact details of the supplier
  • The date of issue of the MSDS
  • The colour of the chemical
  • The intended use
  • Dilution factors (if relevant)
  • First aid information
  • Personal protective equipment required for using the chemical
  • How to store the chemical
  • The composition of the chemical (active ingredients etc.)

These MSDS should be stored and be available wherever chemicals are used and stored. You should check to ensure your supplier is providing this information for you.

Some cleaning chemicals are incredibly dangerous and you need to make sure that you are using the chemical for it’s intended purpose. Often I see businesses that base their decision purely on price. If you are making this decision, you need to make sure you are comparing “apples with apples”. You need to check:

  • The dilution factor
  • What is included in the price. Good chemical companies will provide bottles, labels, training, posters etc. at no additional cost
  • The size of the containers. I am aware of at least two chemical suppliers who no longer sell chemicals in the large 25 litre bottles due to OHS requirements. All of their chemicals are sold in 5 litre and 1 litre bottles.

In my travels, these are some examples of poor decision making that I have seen:

  • One business changed chemical companies because the cost of the 25 litre bottle was $10 cheaper (20%), however the dilution factor of the cheaper bottle was 50ml per 10 litres of water, instead of 10ml per 10 litres. So they save 20%, but needed to use 500% more!!
  • One business purchased a sanitiser that was intended for an automatic dispenser and foaming machine, but was mixing it by hand. The dilution factor was 1:440. This meant that the business need just over 2ml per litre of water. How long will it take to use a 5 litre bottle at 2ml per litre. How hard is it to measure 2ml?
  • Chemicals stored in cordial bottles, tomato sauce bottles, measuring jugs, water bottles, stainless steel bowls, takeaway containers, Milo tins and food storage containers.
  • Chemicals (in a warehouse) stored in direct contact with bags of flour
  • Chemicals (in a hospital) stored in the pantries with biscuits, tea bags etc.
  • Chemicals (in a fresh chicken shop in a market) stored in the cool room (as they didn’t have room in processing area
  • A dishwasher that was not connected to chemicals at all
  • A meat slicer being “sanitised” with a caustic soda based window cleaner (even though they were clearly labelled and colour coded)
  • A disinfectant (that should be used in toilets) being used as a sanitiser on a production bench used for making mass amounts of sandwiches.

So how about you? What chemical catastrophes have you seen? Do you have any safe tips for the use of cleaning chemicals in food businesses?

What ever you, make sure that you…

Eat well. Eat safe!