I recently looked a bit closer at some household cooking and kitchen tools and noticed that they are not designed to be easily cleaned.

Take a handheld cheese grater. If you haven’t used a cheese grater lately, someone in your family surely has. It has a handle attached to a rectangular, slightly curved metal plate with sharp grooves meant for zesting citrus or grating cheese.

But take a look at the bottom of one.

On many, the metal plate is simply wrapped around the frame, creating a wonderful place for food particles to hide, and a very difficult place to clean.

This brings me to my point — food plant equipment and utensil design needs some attention.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines its equipment design expectations in Code of Regulations, 21, 117.40 and provides less than 400 words to tell us what we need to do and look for.

Some key phrases that jump out at me from it are: adequately cleanable; designed and maintained to prevent cross-contact and -contamination; corrosion-resistant; designed, constructed and used appropriately to avoid adulteration; made of nontoxic materials, and designed to withstand the environment of their intended use; seams on food-contact surfaces must be smoothly bonded or maintained so as to minimize accumulation.

The Department of Agriculture provides only about 150 words of guidance in CFR, 9, 416.3. Key phrases there include: of such material and construction to facilitate thorough cleaning; use will not cause the adulteration of product; maintained in sanitary condition.

That’s not a whole lot of guidance. So let me add some hopefully helpful tips.

Some kitchen tools, such as cheese graters, aren’t made to be easily cleaned. They need to be.
© wolna | Adobe Stock

For starters, use the right materials. Stainless steel 304 or 316 are always a good choice. We know aluminum does not withstand the rigors of food plant cleaning compounds. Other metals also don’t. Don’t use wood handles — how would you sanitize them?

Another key is to design, build and install your tools properly. Make sure the design is sanitary — no places for food particle build-up. Items attached to walls are difficult to clean behind, install them so you can get behind that panel or dry-erase board.

Don’t use hollow handles for utensils. Tank and vat lids need to channel anything that may land on them away so that the product is protected.

Finally, maintain them in good condition. That means ensuring that plastic (or metal) utensils don’t have hanging slivers or bits that may fall into product. Inspect equipment routinely to ensure there are no cracks or developing hidden spaces that will hold food particles.

Remove damaged materials, such as transfer hoses that have kinked and are now uncleanable, from use. Replace worn-out rubber or plastic items.

My typical audit finding is equipment or tools that have been built in-house are usually to blame for unsanitary design. Equipment manufacturers follow design and construction standards. Many items that are built in the plant are done so to save time and money — and are shortcuts.

Look for things such as hollow-handled cleaning tools or reach bars, exposed threads on screws and bolts and so forth.

As with all we do in quality management, let’s think beyond the fix. How does a hollow handle for a tool get into the plant? If this is happening, do we need to implement better purchasing controls so that only sanitarily designed tools and equipment are purchased? Quality management means follow-up and working toward continuous improvement.

This means we are more than solving the immediate problem, we are working to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The good news is that I’m finding better-designed kitchen tools in the stores. Wire whisks don’t have wires stuffed into an open food particle catching area, spatulas and scrapers have a single piece molded plastic construction, can openers have been redesigned and so forth. I’ve even found a cheese grater where the metal plate is molded into a strong plastic frame. I’m confident we can make the same improvements when we are in a manufacturing facility.