During a recent birthday celebration dinner at a casual dining restaurant with table service, our friendly server, Bella, escorted our family to a table laden with dirty dishes. She left our family awkwardly standing in a busy aisle as a last-minute cleaning took place — leaving the tabletop and booths wet from the visibly soiled cleaning cloth. Have you ever encountered this or any other kind of sanitary issue in a restaurant? How about in the dining hall at camp?

The Center for Disease Control reports that of 550 outbreaks of foodborne illness from 1993 through 1997, 40 percent originated from commercial food establishments. Armed with these statistics, the Tennessee Department of Health and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, both in Nashville, jointly conducted a study of 49 Tennessee restaurants with foodborne disease outbreaks from 1999 through 2002, with the goal of determining the impact of health department inspections on these restaurants. One important finding was that mean inspection scores from these restaurants did not differ from all other restaurant mean scores during the same time period. An additional significant discovery is that the two most common critical violations were proper storage of toxic items, and good hygiene and handwashing practices (Jones, Pavlin, LaFleur, Ingram, & Schaffner, 2004).

As food service providers, we have learned in our certification training about food manufacturer faux pas causing frightening diseases such as Mad Cow Disease and Salmonella. The cycle of these types of diseases can also be continued within our kitchens and dining facilities if we are not diligent with both in-house sanitation (overall cleanliness) and hygiene (personal cleanliness).

Personal Cleanliness

Yersinia enterocolitica and hepatitis A are just two of the various diseases that can be spread to food by food service workers with unwashed hands (Pampel, 2006). Handwashing is the easiest way to avoid contamination and cross-contamination. As food service managers, we should train our employees in proper handwashing procedures. This includes washing hands, fingers, inside fingernails, and forearms in a sink strictly designated as a handwashing sink, with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Thoroughly wash hands, whether gloves will be worn or not, in the following instances:

  • Before beginning food prep
  • Before serving food
  • Before and after handling leftovers
  • After handling raw meats, poultry, seafood, or eggs
  • After returning from outdoors
  • After sweeping, mopping, or other cleaning duties
  • After eating or drinking
  • After touching face, hair, or other areas of the body
  • After blowing nose, or covering a cough or sneeze
  • After smoking a cigarette or using any tobacco product
  • After using the restroom

Note that commercial kitchens are mandated by law to post reminder signage within restroom facilities regarding the requirement of handwashing after restroom use.

As managers, we should monitor overall employee hygiene. Ensuring our employees have clean hair, nails, and clothes, as well as shoes with no exposed toes, heels, or tops of feet may seem a little personal, but it is an important responsibility.

Overall Cleanliness

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) is an internationally recognized system "for reducing the risk of safety hazards in food. An HACCP System requires that potential hazards are identified and controlled at specific points in the process" (22000-tools.com, 2015). This program, with support from the FDA and USDA, began implementation as the International HACCP Alliance for the meat and poultry industry. HACCP is now used industry-wide at food service establishments (Pampel, 2006).

Checklists for implementation of HACCP are posted throughout our kitchens regarding sanitation procedures for reducing potential hazards serve as helpful reminders and tools for efficient follow-through. I have used forms similar to the following three checklists.

Continual Sanitary Practices (Pampel, 2006)

  • Move all items from cardboard boxes to labeled plastic containers with lids. This allows you to find any leaked products and store items where pests cannot pervade.
  • Make sure food products are not stored on the floor or directly under a sink. Store on shelves or racks.
  • All food products with raw juices in refrigerator and freezer units must be stored wrapped and on lower shelves than other products.
  • Store raw meats away from cooked foods and any other raw food products.

Shift Cleaning Checklist (Lynn, 2012)

  • Clean dining table surfaces and all dining area surfaces immediately after every use.
  • Change dish machine water after each meal.
  • Change sanitizer water in deep well sinks after each meal.
  • Clean can opener.
  • Empty trash as often as is needed.
  • Break down boxes and remove from kitchen.
  • Clean range and grill/griddle.
  • Clean and sanitize all surfaces in kitchen, dining area, and coffee bar.
  • Empty, clean, and sanitize steam table. Fill with fresh water.
  • Pull fatigue mats, take outdoors, hose, and scrub.
  • Sweep and mop entire kitchen, pantry, and walk-in units with fresh water and floor cleaner solution.
  • Sweep and mop serving line area, entire dining room, and coffee bar.
  • Clean employee bathroom, then mop with specified "restroom only" mop and mop bucket.
  • Clean dining hall restrooms using "restroom only" mop and mop bucket.
  • Empty all mop water into utility sink, clean mop buckets, and wash soiled mop heads in washer.
  • Second shift must place newly cleaned mop heads in dryer to begin drying.

Weekly Deep Cleaning Checklist (Payne-Palacio & Theis, 2009)

  • Clean all ovens — inside, outside, top. Clean all racks. Clean floor underneath, walls beside, and behind.
  • Change oil in deep fryers. Clean all sides of deep fryer, walls, floors, and piping behind.
  • Clean grill on all sides and surface, and piping behind. Also, clean walls and floors.
  • Remove and wash burner covers, frame, and tray.
  • Clean filters over the grill and oven.
  • Clean out grease traps on grill and oven.
  • Clean microwave inside and out. Remove microwave (if not wall mounted) and clean table.
  • Clean janitorial closet and place brooms, mops, and dust pans in holder.
  • Clean and organize storage shelves containing dishware, cups, measuring cups, mixing bowls, and cookware.
  • Organize and clean drawers containing utensils and knives.

Two More Tips

Ever the obsessive-compulsive seeker of cleanliness and organization in our camp kitchen, I have actually enjoyed looking for ways to work smarter. After I began a new food service manager position a few years back, I discovered that we had no adequate way of cleaning under and behind, or retrieving fallen items from, our utensil and ware racks or our walk-in refrigerator and freezer racks. We purchased and installed four wheels on each rack so they could be pulled away from the walls to clean behind and under them, after rescuing the objects banished to the floor. The wheels had locks for keeping the racks steady and secure. This simple trick made a huge difference in the overall cleanliness of our kitchen.

During our outdoor cleaning of rubber fatigue mats one day, our staff began to moan about the thought of dragging the very heavy mats with circular holes back into the dish room and serving line area. We brainstormed together with our camp maintenance supervisor, who had just the solution. Within a few days, he had cut the mats in half with a power saw to greatly reduce the weight, attached large metal hooks to the aluminum privacy walls outside the kitchen, and we hung the mats after a good cleaning. Problem solved.

The checklists and ideas offered here are a solid start to reducing risks of foodborne illness. However, there are many other requirements related to chemical storage, food preparation, food temperatures, etc. For now, remember, a cleaner kitchen is a safer kitchen.


22000-tools.com. (2015). What is HACCP? Retrieved from 22000-tools.com/what-is-haccp.html
Jones, T.F., Pavlin, B.I., LaFleur, B.J., Ingram, L.A., & Schaffner, W. (2004, April). Emerging infectious diseases: Restaurant inspection scores and foodborne disease. Retrieved from http://wwwnc .cdc.gov/eid/article/10/4/03-0343
Lynn, J. (2012). Start your own restaurant and more: Pizzeria, coffeehouse, deli, bakery, catering business. Irvine, CA: Entrepreneur Press.
Pampel, F.C. (2006). Threats to food safety. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc. Payne-Palacio, J. & Theis, M. (2009). Introduction to Food Service. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/ Prentice Hall.

Kimberly Whiteside Truitt, CFM, has been food service director for Camp Gilmont and Camp Zephyr, and served as a member of Camping Magazine's Editorial Advisory Committee for six years. Kimberly is married to Thomas and mom to Harrison and Benjamin.