There is a growing public awareness of the importance of good hygiene practices wherever food is being handled, whether at production, distribution or retail level.
It is also widely accepted within the food and catering industry that good hygiene practice means good business practice. Ever more stringent legislation and inspection - as well as practical and financial considerations - mean that all work surfaces in food preparation or production areas must conform to a wide variety of regulations and EC Directives relating to health and hygiene.
The demands of Environmental Health Officers must also be satisfied and EHOs are naturally concerned with such problems as cross-contamination and food poisoning. But while the cleanliness and hygiene of counter tops, cookers, floors, ceilings and other horizontal work surfaces are paramount, it is equally important not to neglect the vertical ones such as walls.
EC guidelines say that work surfaces must be smooth and easy to clean and walls must also meet these requirements. They must be durable and impervious as well, to take all the knocks you would expect in a kitchen or food production area where mobile equipment, trolleys and utensils are in constant use.
To meet these demands, walls must be truly durable without the need for regular repair and replacement while their ease of cleaning must be sufficient to keep maintenance costs to a minimum. They have to have excellent impact resistance and in addition to improving hygiene levels should also enhance the general appearance of the area.
To achieve this state requires investment in a long-term solution to wall and floor problems. Failure to do so could lead to an enforced closure of premises, costly and repeated repair bills, and high on-going maintenance costs or cross-contamination from walls, floors and ceilings.
It could also hurt financially by way of heavy fines or loss of production time while the possibility of bad press publicity could have more far-reaching consequences. Consumers do not take kindly to establishments whose food production areas or kitchens have been publicly identified as having hygiene problems.
The choice of wall surfaces effectively lies between ceramic tiles, paints, glass fibre-filled sheets and PVC sheet, each of which as its own particular features. But paint eventually flakes and tiles can be damaged by impact or grout cracking. Increasingly, semi-rigid PVC is accepted as the modem and highly versatile alternative.
When selecting a wall covering, it is vital to physically see any test certificates that relate to building and fire regulations, technical characteristics of the material and its suitability for use in food preparation areas. References from previous installations should give added assurance and a proven track record is more important than the dubious appeal of a cheaper, new product from an unknown manufacturer.
Other factors to consider include:
- frequency and difficulty of cleaning - resistance to impact damage
- speed of installation
- interruption to business
- likely reduction in maintenance costs
- reduction on repair costs
- manufacturer's warranty
Under these criteria, Whiterock PVC sheet is fast becoming the accepted norm as hygiene standards reach higher levels. Noted for its exceptional dimensional stability and impact resistance, it gives a consistent surface finish, free of lines and extrusion marks. It can be installed over existing surfaces with the minimum of fuss or disruption and its ease of cleaning is regarded as one of its outstanding properties.
Altro PVC sheeting, for instance, conforms to BS476 Part 7 1971 Class 1 Fire regulations and meets Class 0 Building Regulations where installed to a non-combustible substrate. These are other important considerations to be borne in mind when selecting a wall covering.
Walls - and all other hygienic work surfaces - contribute to good hygiene practice and in this hygiene/health conscious world. that has to be good for business.
Rudge Brothers and James are premier installers for the range of hygienic wall, floor and ceiling products from Altro and are therefore able to give advice on meeting the latest regulations on food hygiene for commercial premises.