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Design masterclass: designing for change

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In part one of a series on 'The new normal for kitchen design', Tim Smallwood FFCSI looks at why sanitation must be part of all new kitchen design

“The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order,” said the mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. We are now in a period of significant change and, while everything indicates that we cannot expect our hospitality customers to return to what we had come to expect as normal, we also can expect them to be much more aware of hygiene and sanitation in our premises.

In fact, sanitation, as in ‘hand sanitation’ will have become ubiquitous by the time we are trying to get our businesses back to normal.

In the future our kitchens hygiene and sanitation will not just be able to be assumed but actually be seen in practice. Customers will want to know. They will start to be aware the gloves that the server is wearing is for their own protection, not the customer’s, and that the spray used on the tables could be so watered down as to be pointless.

Embedding hygiene into design

The changes needed to maintain this new level of hygiene and sanitation will need to be embedded into the very design of the kitchen to effectively support the management processes needed. In many cases many of these design strategies are in fact nothing new and have been applied as good practice in hospital kitchens in many parts of the world.

The strategies for embedding effective hygiene and sanitation standards in the kitchen are also those that will ensure the safety of the food produced and involve both the design of the facility and the technology used.

The only truly clean place in a restaurant, commercial, healthcare or industrial premises will be the kitchen. All areas outside the kitchen have to be considered to be contaminated if the kitchen is to be designed and operated effectively.

The more meals a facility produces, the greater the risk and the more that the design needs to follow the good practice of the separation of clean from contaminated areas. This line of separation should create a barrier that delivers effective control measures which are embedded to manage the movement of potentially contaminated staff and materials into the clean areas of the kitchen.

Resolving complex issues

One of the most important factors in the effective environmental control of the kitchen is to limit the number of access points to those absolutely essential. To identify the areas of foodservice that will be external to the kitchen, that is to say, contaminated areas, from the kitchen clean zone, a foodservice flow diagram can be effective. The diagram can be used to manipulate the effect of various decisions before the actual design proceeds.

While the following flow diagram represents a simple foodservice concept, an example of using it to resolve a more complex issue was when confronted with the issue of a restaurant chain that had live fish tanks and how to manage the potential for cross contamination in the process of delivery and receiving fresh fish. Resolving the theory by using the flow chart indicating the barrier control took considerable discussion and manipulation of the diagram but did finally enable the design to be resolved effectively.

The flow chart establishes the logical flow of the facility and the ideal correlation between functional spaces. More critically it also identifies the barrier control access points and the data point zones required for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), as well as equipment control and maintenance programming.

Other essential functions that are now identified in the work flow include the goods receiving point, in the contaminated zone, which will become more than just a link to the kitchen stores off the loading dock or back door to the premises. It will be where all the contaminated incoming packaging is removed before it is taken into the kitchen. Deliveries will be placed into clean containers for storage and use in the kitchen and the packaging no longer having to be removed from the kitchen for disposal.

The staff entry point will become more than a door into the kitchen where you may pick up a hair cover. It will now include the wash hand basin, hair net dispenser,  a UV dispensing cupboard for clothes covering and shoe covers or replacements and a bin for the disposal of coveralls when leaving.

On the kitchen clean side there will be another wash hand basin as well as a floor tray with sanitiser for footwear sanitising (see diagram, right).

In larger kitchens that produce a lot of food or those feeding vulnerable people, the entry portal will be an air shower cabinet to ensure all who enter the kitchen are fully decontaminated after they put on their coveralls. All of these access points will have to be monitored to ensure compliance and that the benefits are achieved.

Management control

The separation between the incoming contaminated (dirty) table/tray wares and the clean output end of the dishwash system is also a point of barrier control as noted by Stephen Young FCSI and Michael Caruso in their previous Design Masterclass article, although it is suggested the inherently the dishwasher machine itself is potentially contaminated and therefore the barrier point would be immediately before the clean outlet of the machine rather than the inlet point.

By sealing the opening in the barrier wall and the dishwasher it is also possible to manage the ventilation of both sides separately to ensure contaminated air does not enter the clean kitchen.

This barrier approach can just as easily be introduced to a single tank pass through dishwasher, but in both cases the movement of staff between the dirty and clean end requires the same management control to ensure that staff having worked loading the dishwasher do not bring any contamination with them if they move to the clean unloading task (see below).

The next step is to use technology to make the best use of the improved kitchen layout and design.

The role of technology

As has been noted by consultant Mike Caldicott of Tricon, all these planning and design enhancements will come at the cost of extra space. However when teamed with the introduction of new technology, it can deliver an overall lifecycle cost benefit in addition to the food safety, individual safety and environmental benefits.

All of the technologies identified are currently in general use in kitchens in various countries in the world. The point here is to look at how gathering them all together can help manage the fallout of the contamination risk of the global pandemic and its impact on the future of the operation of the commercial kitchen by providing efficient infection control.

The most ubiquitous technology that is readily available is the automatic door that can be access controlled though code or digital access card which can then be used to identify those that have been in any particular space. If in the case of the kitchen staff entry the door access is linked to the hand wash system so that hands have to be washed before the door will open then it serves a dual purpose and can justify the additional capital cost.

This leads to the actual process of hand washing. Although there are many hands-free tap systems for this application it is the timing and the frequency of the hand washing that results in effectiveness.

A technology that best delivers on all these requirements is the ROX electrolysed water system that delivers a timed stream of washing water followed by a timed stream of sanitiser which is illuminated to indicate the stage of the wash. The wash module is activated touch free and can be linked to a staff access card which at all kitchen wash basins can monitor the staff hand washing frequency. The USDA recommends that hand washing is better than the use of gloves for optimum food safety protection with a corresponding cost saving.

The ROX hand wash unit has to be used in association with the ROX reticulated electrolysed water system to deliver the cleaning and sanitising water supply. ROX uses a process of electrolysis to create alkali cleaning  water at approx. pH11.3 as Sodium Hydroxide that replaces unsafe chlorinated and ammonia cleaning products and sanitising water at approx. pH2.7 as Hypochlorus acid that replaces risky  hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid products to deliver a greatly improved sanitising performance.

By generating your own cleaning and sanitising consumables using only common salt and a small amount of power, the capital and space costs are well offset by the payback as well as the environmental benefit of eliminating chemical disposal as well as staff and operational benefits of zero food taint, extended shelf life, improved elimination of bacteria and safe handling.

A technology in more frequent use in commercial kitchens in North Asia is the Ultra Violet (as UVC wavelength 200 – 280nm) germicidal light source. UVC has a germicidal effect on microorganisms in water, on surfaces and in the air. It is important that the UVC is not visually exposed and that rooms are not occupied during disinfection to avoid irradiation effects.

However, as it cannot pass through clear acrylic it is used in cabinets to sanitise the surfaces of everything from cutting boards and utensils to personal protective equipment and foot covering. The technology can also be used to maintain the sanitary condition of a kitchen space after it has been cleaned by installing UVC light fittings in the ceiling which are timed to switch on during the night after the kitchen is closed to sanitise all surfaces by eliminating any residual bacteria, DNA, viruses and mould spores

Air shower access technology has been used in industrial and pharmaceutical clean rooms for many years and is often seen in the entry to larger hospital kitchens in Japan and North Asia. The chambers with interlocked doors use high velocity low pressure air to lift off contamination which is cleaned through HEPA filters. Some air shower units also include ION cluster and plasmacluster technology to trap malodour molecules, microorganisms, spoilage bacteria, allergens and fungus germs in the air ensuring staff do not bring unwanted matter into the kitchen. The technology is a compact solution to the need to ensure staff are not able to contaminate the food they are handling or each other.

Managing waste, minimising contamination

Finally the management of waste in the kitchen can be a potential for the contamination of spaces during the handling process. The best way of minimising the potential for contamination is to minimise the amount of waste in the first place. But given that there will always be waste from the preparation process and plate waste (which should always be reviewed to see why it’s coming back) a systemised approach can be of benefit.

However it needs to be recognised that as a rule waste generated by food preparation in the kitchen is clean: but only clean until it leaves the kitchen.

It’s the process of getting rid of the waste and the containers that are used that is the risk area. Now that the use of in sink waste disposal systems are being phased out by the water and sewerage authorities there are two main technologies for minimising the problem.

The first, which is used frequently in Europe, is waste vacuum systems by which the waste is deposited into the system at the point where it is generated: the prep area; pot wash; ware wash etc; and then ‘sucked’ through pipework to the basement waste management area, completely eliminating any handling. This can work effectively if there is a system in place for the pick-up and removal of the bulk waste for the bio generation of power or similar.

In the US similar systems are used to grind the waste to minimise its volume to make it easier to handle and remove, but it does not generally eliminate the handling risks.

Where there is no community based system of removal and reuse, the alternative is to process all putrescible waste at the kitchen level using a biological process or a heat and agitation based system that reduces the volume of the waste by 90% to a dry powder in less than 12 hours which can be sold as a nitrogenous soil enhancer. By this means it eliminates the need to pay for the removal of the waste by highly contaminated waste pick-up vehicles. The systems can be sized for whatever volume of waste that is generated by the kitchen activity.

Tim Smallwood FFCSI