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Perhaps it’s time to let food service facility managers, operators, and quality control professionals in on a little secret: Mops spread soils which can make floors slippery, unhealthy, and dangerous but properly cleaned floors improve traction, health, and safety.
Cleaning workers and others in the professional cleaning industry have either known or suspected this for decades, but it does not appear that the word has spread up to the C-suite regarding mops. And, if the ultimate goal of professional cleaning is to protect human health, then this little secret can have serious ramifications for all types of facilities, including those in food service.
The use of mops is still prevalent in restaurant cleaning. In fact, in many facilities, including hospitals, schools, hotels, and restaurants, mops and mop buckets are as commonly used as vacuum cleaners, sprayers, and cleaning cloths.
In all fairness, mops are recommended for certain tasks in a food service facility. They are perfect for cleaning up spills or moisture buildup at building entries, both to help prevent a slip-and-fall accident in kitchen areas. But, it is the ongoing use of mops and the cleaning solution in the mop bucket that can potentially cause serious contamination and health risks for food service facilities. This was first made clear in a hospital sanitation study published in Applied Microbiology in 1971. While it was conducted in a hospital setting, the findings can and do apply to any commercial facility, including food service.
The researchers wanted to find out if germs and bacteria that may cause disease can be spread through cleaning. Of central concern were all the tools customarily used to “wet-mop” or clean floors: mops, buckets, and the cleaning solution. Here is what they reported:
Following the demonstration of massive spread of bacterial contamination throughout the hospital by the wet-mopping techniques in use, quantitative studies were undertaken to determine the source of contamination and to institute measures of control. It was found that mops, stored wet, supported bacterial growth to very high levels and could not be adequately decontaminated by chemical disinfection. Laundering and adequate drying provided effective decontamination, but build-up of bacterial counts occurred if mops were not changed daily or if disinfectant was omitted from the wash-water.
In other words, as soon as the mop is used, literally from its first application, it becomes soiled and contaminated. This builds up over time and as it does, the cleaning solution also becomes contaminated. The study did note that the use of a disinfectant can help prevent this. However, as the mop, bucket, and cleaning solution become more and more soiled, what is referred to as the efficacy of the disinfectant—its ability to kill germs and bacteria—begins to diminish. As this happens, the mop begins to spread soils and potentially harmful contaminants.
Before exploring this topic further, a fair question to ask is why is it so important to keep floors hygienically clean? The reason is actually quite simple. We have many more contacts with floors than most people realize. According to Mark Warner, formerly with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, we have as many as 50 direct and indirect contacts with floors everyday. Every time we tie a shoelace, as an example, that has also touched a floor, we have come in indirect contact with the floor. And, if that floor is contaminated—as is often the case during the course of the day—cross-contamination is possible.
This was the key concern in the hospital study discussed earlier and the issues they encountered are reasons why the food service industry should prioritize addressing these risks. Later, we will discuss how food service managers can address this problem.