With all the concerns restaurant owners and managers contend with, there is one you may never have considered--yet it can have very serious repercussions if not addressed. What is this mysterious, underserved issue? Believe it or not, it's high chairs.
Patrons often bring babies with them to restaurants, and as we all know, infants are usually quite messy when they eat, often putting food all over the high chair before they put it into their mouths. It probably shouldn't be surprising, then, that these chairs can become transmission points for cross contamination if not properly cleaned and disinfected. Such contamination can negatively impact a child's health, as well as that of just about anyone else who touches the chair.
This fact was borne out in an October 2010 study conducted in 30 different U.S. restaurants. Swabs were taken from scores of high chairs, and the number of bacteria present was surprisingly high--147 per square centimeter. Just as a point of comparison, the average public toilet seat has only about eight bacteria per square centimeter.
What's more, the bacteria found on those high chairs--including E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and enterococcus facecalis--had the potential to be very harmful. In fact, all of these organisms can cause serious illness in young children, whose immune systems are not yet fully developed.
Looking Clean and Being Clean Are Not the Same Thing
It is now fairly well-known in the professional cleaning industry that just because something looks clean does not mean it actually is clean. For instance, in this particular case, well-meaning staff may actually be contributing to the problem. It is not uncommon for restaurant personnel to wipe high chairs clean after use with a dampened terry cloth cleaning towel. But even when used with a chemical cleaning agent, such cloths are known to have the potential to spread disease organisms from surface to surface, especially if they have already been used several times. Even if a high chair looks clean after having been wiped down, it may still be harboring a variety of potentially harmful organisms.
Further, a conventional, all-purpose cleaning agent is not effective at eradicating germs and bacteria. A disinfectant is usually necessary in these situations.
What else can restaurant owners and managers do to get their high chairs hygienically clean?
• Communicate with your staff, making sure they understand the problem. Restaurant personnel are usually unaware of how important it is to hygienically clean high chairs.
• Use microfiber cleaning cloths. Microfiber cleans surfaces more effectively than conventional cloths. Taking this a step further, many restaurants are now using what are referred to as "smart towels." These microfiber towels are divided into eight quadrants, four to a side. This allows workers to fold the towel to use a fresh area for each job, helping to stop the spread of contaminants.
• Consider pressure cleaning high chairs. Many schools use spray-and-vac cleaning systems to pressure clean cafeteria tables and chairs. These machines, typically referred to as 'no-touch cleaning systems,' wash away deeply embedded soils, germs, and bacteria. If properly used, these systems can even be used without chemicals, making them environmentally friendly as well as effective.
Parents, Take Note
Many parents may be surprised to learn that restaurant high chairs are not the only items that have been found to have these contamination problems. Some studies have found that the baby seats found in shopping carts at grocery stores may have similar issues. Fortunately, these too can be hygienically cleaned using the methods described above.