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Wipe out contamination risks and stay sustainable

05 September 2019

James Taylor explains how advances in cleaning wipes are not only helping to reduce the risk of transferable contamination in the foodservice sector – they're improving sustainability too

Growing demand from consumers, coupled with pressure from global governments to implement sustainable business practices and products, means that innovation in the foodservice sector is continuing to reach new heights.

While the introduction of increasingly inventive sustainable solutions is promising, many businesses may find the implementation of such solutions overwhelming, or even unattainable. Thankfully, a major mind-shift or sizable investment is not always necessary to lower the environmental impact of an enterprise – even simple changes can make a difference. 

One area perfect for improving sustainability in the foodservice sector is cleaning.

Contamination crisis

In the foodservice industry, it’s not just the visible dirt you have to worry about. In fact, one of the industry’s biggest threats isn’t visible to the naked eye – it’s impact, however, is all too real and can have dire consequences. I’m referring to cross-contamination, which remains a major challenge for the sector. 

While there are many potential causes of cross-contamination with bacteria and/or allergens, one of the most common sources is the use of seemingly clean cloths and sponges. In fact, dishrags, tea towels, sponges and scrubbers are some of the most highly contaminated materials, harbouring various infectious agents and harmful bacteria.

Like the foodservice sector, the cleaning industry is evolving and developing new and efficient products to not only ensure better hygiene, but to also guarantee better resource and waste management. One such innovation is the development of single-use compostable and biodegradable wipes, which address the issue of cross-contamination without negatively impacting on the environment.  

Product development

To understand the benefits of biodegradable and compostable wipes, we need to first consider the evolution of products conventionally used. 

Traditional tea towels are often used to wipe hands or surfaces; in reality they are only suitable for drying and have no cleaning properties. They are generally made from cotton and are not approved to be in direct contact with food. 

Nonwoven wipes, on the other hand, are very versatile and suitable for a wide range of cleaning applications. Most nonwoven wipes have Food Contact Clearance (FCC) and are available in multiple colours to support HACCP guidelines and therefore ideal for the foodservice segment. However, wipes are traditionally made from synthetic fibres such as polyester and polypropylene, which are not sustainable, as they are not biodegradable and are not compostable.

Like nonwoven wipes, there exists or something along these lines biodegradable and compostable wipes that are FCC approved and thus ideal for the foodservice sector. The difference lies in the fact that they are made from 100% viscose fibres, which are a natural biodegradable fibre with similar characteristics to cotton and are Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) certified. 

Such wipes are suitable for general purpose cleaning applications such as cleaning tables, utensils and kitchen surfaces. To prevent cross-contamination, they are designed for short-term use.

Single-use makes sense

For businesses moving towards sustainable practices, using disposable, single-use products may seem counterintuitive. But when it comes to cleaning, disposability is key. Best practice advocates the use of single-use products as it can help reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

In addition, single-use products provide consistent, predictable results. The risk of loss of effectiveness through structural breakdown or retention of contaminants – and consequently the risk of cross-contamination – as the result of ineffective laundering is thus eliminated. As these products conform to HACCP regulations in terms of colour coding, the risk of cross-contamination is further reduced.

Aside from the hygiene benefits, compostable disposable products which come with polybags that are also compostable and biodegradable, contribute significantly to environmentally friendly waste management as they are designed to be composted in an industrial composting facility together with food waste. This means there’s no need for sorting and the compostable wipes as well as the packaging can all go together in one bin.

With both hygiene and sustainability being top priorities in the foodservice sector, cleaning is a smart business strategy. By employing technologically advanced cleaning materials, businesses in the sector can satisfy consumer and government demands, reduce contamination risks and operate more profitably and sustainably.

James Taylor is marketing director EMEIA – specialties at Berry Global