Your walk-in refrigerator holds the most vulnerable portion of your restaurant's inventory, so it's crucial that you keep the contents fresh to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Maintaining a walk-in refrigerator isn't a matter of simply sweeping and mopping the floor every night—it also includes your daily habits for using the room and how you set up the room itself. You may have to give up some of your current routine in order to maintain a healthy walk-in, but better, more efficient methods are readily available.
The way you organize the food in your walk-in affects the safety and purity of all the food stored inside. Not every restaurant has a walk-in large enough for separate shelves for each type of food, so smart shelving practices are key. Your main organizing principle should be the "waterfall effect." Before you put any food on a shelf, consider what's on the shelves below it. Store cooked food—properly packaged and dated—on the top shelves throughout the walk-in. This prevents raw foods from dropping or dripping onto them, which can cause cross-contamination. Store raw vegetable matter below the cooked foods, in the middle set of shelves. It's not dangerous for cooked foods to drop down onto the vegetables, so it's safe to store them there. Reserve the bottommost shelves in the walk-in for raw meat. You can't damage raw meat by dropping cooked food or raw vegetables onto it, but the juices from raw meat can contaminate any other food stored below it.
Maintaining a walk-in refrigerator involves more than just organizing the shelves logically. Kitchen staff members should clean the shelves every week, and the floor should be done nightly. Traditional tools, such as rags, mops, and buckets, are especially prone to causing cross-contamination in this type of space. When you wipe surfaces with the rag or mop and dip it into the bucket of cleaning solution, soil and bacteria diffuse throughout the solution. They then transfer back to the rag or mop, to be redeposited in a smooth layer over the surface you're trying to clean. Mops also leave water on the floor, which can cause problems because extra moisture is left in the enclosure. There are better tools to help keep your walk-in safe and clean.
You will need some type of towel for wiping down the shelves and walls in your walk-in. You should be able to fold and refold the towel to reveal a clean surface each time you wipe. Kaivac's SmartTowel makes it easy. The handy markings on each side of the towel show employees where to fold, and the numbers remind them to change surfaces every time they move to another part of the cleaning task.
The OmniFlex Dispense-and-Vac for Food Service is critical to making sure your walk-in's floor is thoroughly clean. The system applies fresh cleaning solution to the floor and provides a brush for mild scrubbing. It then vacuums away all moisture and contaminants, leaving the floor dry and clean and eliminating the extra moisture that can lead to cross-contamination.
For more information on keeping your restaurant kitchen clean and safe, click here.