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Warning! Cleaning fluid can contaminate as well as clean

A visitor to Leeds is currently in a serious condition in hospital after consuming beer believed to be contaminated with caustic soda. The beer was served at one of the city’s bars and the strong cleaning fluid made its way into the man’s drink because the systems at the bar were being cleaned at the time the beer was pulled. The man, who was from Spain, spent several days in intensive care and is likely to have to undergo surgery on his oesophagus.

This story is shocking, but it is a prime example of what can happen when detergents and other cleaning chemicals come into contact with food or drink.

Cleaning is essential for a hygienic food processing environment

Surfaces, systems and machinery have to be cleaned thoroughly to ensure a hygienic environment and prevent dirt, dust, grease and bacteria from contaminating products. If we don’t clean properly we run the risk of pest infestations, damaged product, production breakdowns, decreased shelf life of products, deterioration of floors and drains etc. However, it should also be noted that the very products with which we clean can be a source of contamination themselves if not used in the correct manner.

Detergents and disinfectants should be handled with care

Detergents used within the food industry should always be non-toxic, non-corrosive, non-tainting and free rinsing. Caustic soda is an effective alkaline detergent as it is effective on fat and protein and it’s cheap. Nevertheless it is highly corrosive to aluminium, tin and to the skin.

Acid detergents commonly contain phosphoric acid and should be handled with care. For example, if they come into contact with chlorinated compounds they produce toxic gas.

Disinfectants are an effective way to reduce micro organisms to a safe level. Surfaces, equipment, utensils etc. can be disinfected by heat, steam or chemicals.

Ensure you have a cleaning schedule

Every establishment should have a cleaning schedule in place which should state the following:

  • The chemicals, materials and equipment to be used
  • Who is responsible for checking it and ensuring it has been cleaned
  • The cleaning standard required
  • The precautions to be taken and the protective clothing to be worn

Key stages of cleaning and disinfection

The key stages of cleaning and disinfection should be:

  1. Pre-clean
  2. Wash (with detergent)
  3. Rinse
  4. Disinfect (or sterilise)
  5. Final rinse (if chemical disinfectant used)
  6. Air dry

For Cleaning In Place (CIP), a system commonly used in dairies and breweries, where cleaning chemicals are circulated through enclosed pipework via computer controlled programs, the process is:

  1. Pre-rinse
  2. Detergent
  3. Intermediate rinse
  4. Disinfection
  5. Final rinse

It appears that the unfortunate contamination in the Leeds bar occurred because CIP was still ongoing when the beer was pulled.

Cleaning is everyone’s responsibility

In a food production facility it is the responsibility of all food handlers to keep their work area clean and wipe up spillages as soon as they occur. This is called ‘Clean As You Go.’

You can find detailed information about cleaning guidelines on our Level 3 Food Safety Course, including the importance of storing chemicals away from food, labelling them properly, not mixing them, leaving them for the specified contact time, rinsing thoroughly and ensuring that manufacturers’ instructions are always followed.