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OPINION: Fast food operators must be equipped to beat customers’ cleanliness anxiety

POS terminal, MacDermid Enthone Solutions

While the first national lockdown showed that fast food operators needed to step up their hygiene protocols and invest in hand sanitiser and cleaning agents, they will now face the challenge  of convincing diners it is safe to return when they are allowed to reopen again. Overcoming customers’ cleanliness anxiety starts with effective surface protection, writes Anna Harris at MacDermid Enthone Solutions.

Fast food establishments everywhere face a battle to convince consumers of their cleanliness if they are ever to return to pre-pandemic levels of diners eating in.

Although good hand washing, sanitisation and surface cleaning have long been part of every restaurant’s cleanliness regime – particularly in customer touch points, customers now want even greater reassurance of cleanliness levels.

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With more frequent and intensive cleaning regimes becoming the norm, and more aggressive cleaning agents being used, the ability to effectively protect high-touch surfaces will go a long way to protecting future business and brand reputations.

Protecting surfaces

The right surface protection is paramount if fast food facilities are to instil cleanliness confidence in tomorrow’s diners.

As restaurants continue to implement new effective food safety and cleaning processes, it’s important not to overlook restaurant surfaces, which can be ripe for odour-causing bacteria, mould and mildew growth.

Disinfecting surfaces is an important step, and using a wide variety of cleaning agents is the most effective strategy. The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, recommends sodium hypochlorite (bleach / chlorine) at a concentration of 0.1% or 1,000ppm (1 part of 5% strength household bleach to 49 parts of water).

It states that alcohol at 70%-90% can also be used for surface disinfection. Surfaces must be cleaned with water and soap or a detergent first to remove dirt, followed by disinfection. The WHO adds that cleaning should always start from the least soiled (cleanest) area to the most soiled (dirtiest) area in order to not spread the dirt to areas that are less soiled.

With an increase in cleaning agents and more frequent cleaning regimes, MacDermid Enthone Industrial Solutions advises that it is important to ensure you have the right surface protection that protects against wear and degradation.

Instead of focusing solely on what to put on a surface to clean it, it’s a good idea to think about what you can put inside it. For example, many fast food facilities are increasingly opting to retrofit restaurant surfaces with hard-coated films containing a built-in antimicrobial agent.

Antimicrobial technology has been proven to actively fight bacteria by disrupting the cell wall, inhibiting bacterial growth for dependable and constant surface protection.

As an active agent, antimicrobial technology operates 24/7, helping to keep surfaces clean even in between cleans, protecting the surface against bacterial degradation.

This action, together with frequent disinfection and cleaning regimes, can help to promote a cleaner dining environment and maintain a compliant process for cleanliness.

Protecting your business

The most instant and obvious sign of a clean restaurant environment is the condition of its equipment. Tables, chairs and other surfaces can degrade in quality over time and this is exacerbated by the more frequent use of harsh cleaning agents.

Touchscreen ordering systems can also gather dirt quickly and even minor irritations such as fingerprints on screens can raise doubt about overall cleanliness levels.

Being able to ensure surfaces appear visibly attractive is important when instilling cleanliness confidence in employees and customers alike.

Most restaurants already customise surfaces with different haptic and optic properties with graphics and branding many are first-surface printed. Once these begin to fade and degrade over time, the perception of a restaurant setting can quickly change from clean and tidy to dirty and scruffy.

Sub-surface printing instead, ensures greater longevity of printed graphics over a longer period of time. It provides the printed overlay with a solid protection to constant daily handling and rigorous cleaning. .

This method, sub-surface printing, together with the implementation of a hardcoated film with built-in antimicrobial technology can help ensure proven durability for surfaces even in high wear applications.

In-house tests at MacDermid Enthone Industrial Solutions on our own Autotex AM industrial film for example, demonstrate that when used in human-machine interface applications for vending machines, medical machines and other cross-sector applications, it is possible to perform five million switch actuations without breakdown, meaning the hardcoated film could be actuated up to 1,359 times a day for 10 years without degradation to the surface.

Protecting your reputation

For every step your fast food business takes to build cleanliness confidence, it is natural to want to communicate this to customers; after all, the general population has more of an interest in cleaning regimes and guarantees than it has ever had, so any legitimate claim can create reassurance when encouraging customers through the door.

However, while products such as films, floor finishes, and coatings with antimicrobial features may present claims around residual kill, or days of efficacy, there are a lot of false or misleading claims in the market.

Inadvertently making a false claim relating to antimicrobial performance could have the adverse effect on your facility and incur serious reputational damage if discovered, not to mention fines.

Regardless of what products or technologies you are considering implementing into your restaurant design, it is important to speak to a trusted partner that adheres to strict global regulatory compliance and can therefore protect your facility from false claims and ensure corporate social responsibility.

Antimicrobial hardcoated films for example, play a vital role in preventing or inhibiting growth of bacteria, mould, fungus and mildew which cause surface degradation and odours.

This is not the same as directly cleaning, disinfecting, eliminating, or removing microbes from the surface. Therefore, the role of such a film is for additional protection to help overcome cleanliness anxiety. Regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces remains critical.

There’s no doubt the fast food industry will survive today’s challenges, but to do so, it’s vital that new and innovative solutions to aid cleaning regimes are quickly devised and implemented.

There really is no substitute for thorough disinfection and traditional cleaning, but cleanliness confidence often starts at visual confirmation, which means keeping surfaces clean, intact and durable could be key to reassuring diners back through restaurant doors and kick-starting the recovery process.

Anna Harris is R&D project manager at MacDermid Enthone Solutions, a manufacturer of high-performance hardcoated films and blended liquids.

Tags : hygieneMacDermid Enthone Industrial Solutionsopinion
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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