The construction and material of your kitchen floor, walls, and ceiling and the items you use to prepare delicious food play an important role in food safety.
For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specific requirements when it comes to the features of food- and non-food-contact surfaces.
This article explains the food safety features your kitchen and the tools you use must have to keep food safe.
Food safety features for floors, walls, and ceilings
Kitchen floors, walls, and ceilings are considered non-contact surfaces since they don’t come in direct contact with food.
Because these surfaces are exposed to splashes, spills, and other food soiling, they must be constructed of materials that are durable and easy to clean.
To this point, the most important food safety features to look for when selecting flooring, wall, and ceiling materials are that they are corrosion-resistant or durable, nonabsorbent, and smooth (1).
They cannot have roughness or projections since these characteristics allow bacteria to hide and can make them difficult to clean.
For example, you wouldn’t want carpet in areas that can become wet such as food preparation or dishwashing areas.
Instead, you would want flooring that is made from a nonporous, easy-to-clean, and durable material like ceramic in food prep areas.
Your flooring should also have coving, or a curved, sealed finish, that closes the gap between the floor and wall to provide an easy-to-clean, waterproof surface.
If you use mats in dishwashing or food preparation areas, make sure they are also easily cleanable or NSF-certified.
Your ceilings should also be easily cleanable — you wouldn’t want your drop ceiling tiles to be made of the same materials that you might find in the dining area or an office since they’re textured and difficult to clean.
Your walls must also be made from materials that are smooth, nonabsorbent, and durable to allow and withstand regular cleaning.
If you have block or concrete walls, they should be finished and sealed.
Wall and ceiling attachments like light fixtures, vent covers, wall-mounted items, and decorative items must also be easily cleanable (1).
You need to regularly clean non-food contact surfaces but because they don’t come in direct contact with food, you don’t need to sanitize them.
The most important food safety features to look for when selecting flooring, wall, and ceiling materials are that they are corrosion-resistant, nonabsorbent, and smooth.
Food safety features for food-contact surfaces
A food-contact surface is any surface that comes in direct contact with food, such as utensils, pots, pans, cutting boards, equipment like griddles, and food prep tables.
Unlike non-food contact surfaces, food-contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized to kill and reduce bacteria and other pathogens to safe levels.
These surfaces must be made from materials that are (1):
- durable and nonabsorbent
- heavy and thick enough to stand repeated washing
- finished to have a smooth, easily cleanable surface
- resistance to pitting, chipping, scratching, scoring, and decomposition
The materials used for food-contact surfaces also cannot allow substances from them to transfer to food or impart changes to the color, smell, or taste of food.
Based on these characteristics, certain materials can only be used with certain limitations.
For example, cast iron has use limitations since it can leach or transfer a sizeable amount of iron into food, which can make food taste metallic.
Similarly, copper and copper-containing metals like brass can leach unsafe amounts of copper when exposed to acids like vinegar and tomato juice.
For this reason, copper cannot come in contact with acidic foods.
Wood is another material that has use limitations since it’s prone to developing cuts and gashes over time where bacteria can become trapped and difficult to reach with cleaning.
Thus, only hardwood like maple can be used for cutting boards, cutting blocks, and utensils like rolling pins.
Still, cutting boards, blocks, or utensils must be kept in good repair and replaced if they become too worn, chipped, or scored.
Food-contact surfaces like utensils, pots, pans, and cutting boards should be made from smooth and durable materials that are more easily cleaned. Certain metals like iron and copper have use limitations since they can leach into food or alter its color, smell, or taste.
The bottom line
The material of food- and non-food-contact surfaces plays an important role in food safety.
When selecting flooring, wall, and ceiling material, make sure they are corrosion-resistant, nonabsorbent, and smooth.
Similarly, food-contact surfaces like food prep tables, cutting boards, and utensils should be made from durable, smooth, and nonabsorbent materials.
There are use limitations when it comes to food-contact surfaces made from certain metals like copper and iron since they can leach into food and alter the taste or other qualities.
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