If you’re in the restaurant business, you’re also in the cleaning business
Sure, you may have a lot more passion for your wood-fired Neapolitan pizza Margherita or your chewy, crunchy rectangles of Detroit-style, but you need to take sanitation as seriously as your slices.
In this article we turn away from those luscious pies to another critical part of your menu – the beverage section. Your guests need something chilly and refreshing to accompany their pizza pie, like an ice-cold soda pop or a freshly-drawn beer.
Whether you are setting up or fine-tuning your cleaning schedule, remember that your beverage station needs cleaning, too. Ice machines, soda machines, beer taps and taps for wine or cocktails all require regular cleaning to ensure food safety.
Why cleaning is critical
Keeping your beverage station clean is vital to overall restaurant sanitation. It’s your responsibility to keep customers’ health foremost in mind, and clean equipment is essential for delivering top-quality product to your customers. Passing health department inspections is also critical to keeping your business thriving.
In addition, cleaning is a good way to keep your costly equipment operating efficiently and reliably.
Taps for soda, beer and other libations can attract pests such as fruit flies, ants and roaches. Ice machines may look clean, but they can harbor hazardous contaminants. Failure to clean invites mold, bacteria and residue to get established in these systems.
It’s also worth noting that the FDA regards ice as food, and you must clean ice machines to comply with their regulations.
Establishing a schedule
What’s the best approach for managing the schedule?
You have many excellent resources: regulations, manufacturers’ recommendations, distributors and professional service vendors.
In addition, Michael Maurer, owner of Maurer Sales in Seattle, Washington, suggests that local brewer’s associations can be good resources for beer hygiene. Maurer Sales offers retail and wholesale sales of beverage dispensing products and equipment.
Start by reviewing the health department requirements specific to your state for ice, soft drinks and beer equipment. You must comply with these requirements to stay in business, and they “depend on which state you’re in,” says Steve Thomas Jr., draft operations manager at Multi-Flow Industries dba Lenox-Martell in eastern Massachusetts. Lenox-Martell distributes beverage and restaurant equipment; services beer, soda and refrigeration equipment; and also distributes Real City Soda and Fountainhead craft cane-sugar soda.
Maurer says that some states require the beer distributer to clean the lines, so verify all local regulations as you construct your cleaning protocol. Some states require logs. Make sure you understand what kind of records you must keep for all three stations – soda, beer and ice.
Next, check the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning activities and intervals, and consult with any vendors that might be knowledgeable, such as your distributer, cleaning vendors and equipment maintenance vendors.
Now, build your cleaning schedule. It’s typical to break tasks down into daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tasks. You may want to incorporate basic maintenance into the cleaning schedule.
Heavy usage may demand increased cleaning, but slow business doesn’t get you off the hook: you still need to keep up with your prescribed cleaning schedule.
It’s also true that the airborne flour found in a pizzeria makes things worse, says Thomas. “The flour gets in the air and clogs up the condensers on the ice machine, on the glycol unit, and for the walk-in.”
Especially in the case of beer, maintaining top quality may demand more frequent cleaning than health requirements do. “If your beer starts to take taste off from not cleaning your equipment regularly, you’re probably gonna start to sell fewer pints,” advises Maurer.
Who should clean
These cleaning tasks can be handled by your equipment vendor, your pizzeria staff, your distributor or a professional service vendor. Make sure everyone is on the same page about who does what. Put it in writing so it’s clear.
Thomas recommends that “beer lines and ice machines should be done by professionals, and the dispensing points of a soda system should be the responsibility of the restaurant owner.”
Regardless of who does the cleaning, be sure to keep a cleaning log to track what cleaning activities are performed; who did them and when.
When you fail to clean your beverage station, you are putting your customers and your business at risk. The greatest risk is harming a guest by serving them something contaminated. You may also lose customers by serving inferior beverages, and you could even fail a health inspection.
Cleaning is also an opportunity to do routine maintenance and to take care of small equipment problems before they become large problems.
Tips for cleaning beverage equipment
Follow these useful tips when cleaning your beverage station:
- Turn off the power when performing cleaning activities.
- Follow manufacturers’ recommendations for process and food-safe cleaning products.
- Invest in a dedicated set of equipment for cleaning each beverage station, such as brushes and buckets.
- Keep a log of your cleaning activities, noting dates and actions taken.
- Provide written instructions to your staff.
- Use cleaning as an opportunity to inspect.
Train your staff appropriately, including:
- Proper cleaning procedures to ensure consistency and effectiveness.
- Sanitary use of ice machine.
- Keep taps and other devices clean during use.
- Wash hands before using or cleaning your beverage equipment.
- Use personal protective equipment (gloves and safety glasses) when handling chemicals.
- Keep records correctly.
Notes on cleaning your ice machine
“Routine cleaning of ice machines eliminates bad bacteria growth,” says Thomas, “and since ice is a food it is necessary.”
Deluxe newer machines may have an integrated UV light, which extends the recommended cleaning interval. “It’s a relatively new technology,” according to Thomas. “It kills the bacteria before it can grow inside the ice machine. They’re very expensive, but it’s worth it because the UV light works continuously to sterilize, targeting viruses, mold and other dangerous pathogens that thrive inside dark, damp, cool interiors.”
Cleaning your ice machine also helps it operate efficiently. When lime, scale and minerals build up on internal components, they can obscure sensors and block water flow. This slows down production, jeopardizes quality, uses more electricity, and stresses equipment.
It’s also worth noting that specialized ice machines that deliver nugget or flake ice will have more moving parts that require additional attention.
CONCLUSION: Don’t neglect your beverage setup when establishing your cleaning schedule and training your staff. Your customers and your bottom line both depend on a ready supply of tasty thirst-quenching beverages. Whether it’s the simple pleasure of a cola over ice, or the grown-up delight of a perfectly drawn craft beer, your beverage menu is a vital part of your business and deserves your attention to stay clean, safe and reliable in every way.
Annelise Kelly is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer.