Minimizing the Spread of Foodborne Illnesses in the Food Service Industry

Bruno Mourao, Head of Product Development & Innovations at Microban International, discusses the impact of poor cleaning practices in the food service industry and how this issue can be addressed.

Jim’s Story

Jim owns a little coffee shop on the east coast of the USA. Although he has been open for 3 very successful years, Jim has recently been experiencing issues with cleanliness in his establishment. During a health inspection, a relatively harmless mildew was discovered in and around his brew and espresso machines, especially in the dark recesses of the counters they sit on. Jim was floored by this discovery. Proper cleaning supplies are accessible, training is required for all new employees and proper procedures are in place with daily/weekly sign-offs required by his 3 supervisors. How could this have happened? And more importantly, how can he prevent this from happening again?

Here Come the Stats!

Jim’s situation is nothing new for a lot of business owners in the food service industry. However, it is a growing concern - after all, how do we know if certain surfaces have been cleaned or if the appropriate cleaner was used? According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million Americans suffer from foodborne-related illnesses every single year, with 128,000 people being hospitalized and around 3,000 instances resulting in death. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that foodborne illnesses cost the US an estimated $14 billion a year. On a global scale, research suggests that 1 in 10 people will fall ill every year following consumption of contaminated food. These numbers serve to highlight the importance of cleanliness and hygiene as a component of foodborne illness prevention.

Clean Culture

In the days following the discovery of the mildew, Jim investigated the occurrence by talking with his staff. His conclusions? Due to a particularly busy peak season during the summer, his supervisors lost track of the of the cleaning schedule and therefore did not check to ensure proper cleaning procedures were being followed by other employees daily.

It may come as no surprise to any food service establishment owner or employee that kitchens and other food and beverage preparation areas are perhaps some of the most difficult areas to clean and maintain. There are so many out-of-sight nooks and crannies that can harbor any number of harmful microbes and with food service employees doing their best to ensure customer satisfaction, daily cleaning can sometimes fall down the list of priorities or even be forgotten. As in Jim’s case, this could be very costly mistake to make - both to his business and his café’s reputation. Therefore, it is imperative that a regular, accountable cleaning schedule is established.


In short, the food service industry needs to take charge of their establishments to ensure a proper cleaning culture is in place to prevent and minimize the spread of foodborne illnesses. This can be achieved by:

  • Proper training of your staff;
  • Ensuring a cleaning schedule is maintained and that your staff is held accountable for it;
  • Having the appropriate cleaning equipment and solutions available;
  • Being vigilant and dutiful; and
  • Incorporating antimicrobial products and surfaces into your food preparation areas to offer an added level of protection against the spread of harmful bacteria, mold and mildew.

Not only should the food service industry be concerned that a customer enjoys their meal, but also that they are healthy enough to want to come back for more.