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How to Care for Stainless Steel in Commercial, Restaurants, and Food Service Environments

Commercial food manufacturers, food testing labs, restaurants, and other foodservice environments are required to maintain a strict level of control over the cleanliness of their facility. Food, which plays an omnipresent and vastly important role in our daily lives, must be produced in accordance with the standards created by such groups as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and local health authorities. 

The maintenance of a cleanly and non-contaminated facility is important to ensure the prevention of cross-contamination, and to ensure that all testing is done accurately and all products are made consistent. While much of the responsibility of maintaining a safe environment is up to your facility’s personnel, the surfaces and materials you use can impact how easy or difficult that job becomes. 

Commercial & Food Service Sanitation Standards

Because items processed in commercial kitchens and food service environments are intended for consumption, ensuring that each and every item is of the utmost quality is extremely important. Spoiled and rotten food items are, of course, something to look out for, but the real concern for commercial food processing facilities is ensuring that no cross-contamination occurs and that no foreign objects, particulate, chemical residue, or other toxic contaminants make their way into an item or ingredient. 

To achieve this, food processing facilities uphold strict sanitation policies with the intention of preventing cross-contamination from ever occurring. Because of this, stainless steel is widely considered an ideal material for commercial kitchens, restaurants, testing facilities, etc., due to its incredible tolerance towards regular cleaning, its non-porous surface, and its ability to withstand heat, exposure to moisture, and much more. 

Key Qualities of Stainless Steel

Commercial food processing facilities may not be handling corrosive or caustic chemicals, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t unique environmental concerns to account for in a food service space. Food testing and manufacturing involves a lot of moving parts, meaning that any surfaces or work areas need to be fully equipped to handle a variety of circumstances, temperatures, processes, etc. 

Luckily, stainless steel is super durable in a huge variety of circumstances, making it a near-perfect material for food processing purposes. 

Non-Reactive Worksurface

Some food items like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and vinegar-based liquids can cause a reaction with certain surface materials like aluminum. These reactions not only damage and discolor the surface of the material, but can also cause the food item to change in flavor or otherwise become tainted. 

Stainless steel has no reaction to acidic food items, making it completely safe for use in commercial kitchens and food service facilities handling a variety of ingredients. 

Non-Porous and Water-Resistant

Porous surfaces have microscopic peaks and valleys that collect dust, dirt, grime, and other residues, even after thorough cleanings. Small pits, scratches, and cracks in the surface of some workbenches and tables are prime real estate for bacteria, mold, and chemical buildup, making it near impossible to get the surface fully clean. 

Porous materials may also be more water-absorbent than non-porous materials, allowing water and other liquids to penetrate the surface and cause warping, produce mold, etc. 

Stainless steel is completely smooth and non-porous, so it won’t collect any residue or germs in sneaky hard-to-reach places. Being smooth and non-porous means that stainless steel is easy to clean, making it ideal for food service environments where cross-contamination is always being taken into consideration. 

This quality also helps to make stainless steel resistant to water and moisture, helping to reduce the occurrence of bacterial and mold buildup as well as preventing warping or damage to the furniture. 

Heat Resistant

Cooking and preparing food clearly requires the use of heat, so it only makes sense that food service facilities would need furniture and work surfaces that are able to withstand a significant amount of heat. Stainless steel can tolerate incredibly high temperatures without bending or warping, and won’t degrade in quality with repeated exposure to heat. 

Hot foods, dishes, utensils, etc. can be placed on stainless steel without any negative consequences, helping personnel to feel more confident and comfortable knowing that they won’t cause damage should something accidentally drop or spill.

Easy to Clean

Food testing, cooking, and manufacturing is a messy business, which is why most food service environments use stainless steel work surfaces to help ease the job of cleaning up. Sticky, sugary spills, caked-on starches, gooey dairy products, and tiny grains of spices have a way of avoiding a sponge or a wiping cloth, especially if the surface they are stuck to is porous and wants to hold on. 

Stainless steel is super easy to clean, and most of the time, can be cleaned using just a soft cloth, warm water, and a gentle detergent. Since stainless steel is smooth, slick, and non-porous, those tough-to-clean messes won’t embed themselves into your work surface, and spills are an absolute breeze to clean. 

Most importantly, it is super easy to prevent cross-contamination with stainless steel. Being easy to clean means it is easier for staff to quickly address spills and clean up between projects to prevent foods from coming in unwanted contact with one another. With no need to worry about residue or bacterial buildups, you’ll be able to focus more closely on preparing, testing, and evaluating your facility’s work. 

The Importance of Stainless Steel in the Food Industry

Stainless steel is used everywhere in the food industry, not just to cover countertops and cabinet surfaces. Stainless steel has basically become the most preferred kitchen material, and is now widely used to craft everything from commercial kitchen furniture to regular kitchen appliances for the average home cook. 

Resistant to heat, non-corrosive, non-reactive, and non-porous, stainless steel also happens to be incredibly versatile. 

Applications of Stainless Steel

Stainless steel, like other materials, comes in a variety of grades. Most commercial grade furniture (including what we design and build at OnePointe Solutions) is made from 304-grade stainless steel, which is food safe and highly durable. 

304-grade stainless, which has a higher percentage of nickel than other stainless varieties, is especially non-corrosive, making it perfect for the constantly changing environment of commercial kitchens and foodservice environments. Beyond worksurfaces, stainless steel is commonly used for: 

  • Sinks
  • Cutlery and flatware
  • Cookware: pots, pans, baking dishes, etc.
  • Cooking utensils like garlic presses and knives
  • Appliances like blender and food processor blades
  • Food containers
  • Internal appliance parts
  • Grills
  • Outdoor furniture and equipment 

Cleaning Stainless Steel in a Commercial or Food Service Environment

Unlike in industrial manufacturing or even in some pharma settings, chemical use should be kept to a minimum in a food service, restaurant, or commercial kitchen setting. Though commercial food processing may not utilize the same harsh and often toxic chemicals as other manufacturers, there are still super effective ways to maintain a clean, sanitary environment. 

Stainless steel was essentially made to be clean, adding to the list of reasons why stainless is the top choice of most food manufacturers. 

The Benefits of Cleaning Stainless Steel

Stainless steel spontaneously produces its own protective oxide layer that helps to prevent corrosion. In order for stainless steel to protect itself, the surface must be regularly kept clean, as the buildup of grime, grease, or bacteria can destroy its ability to replenish this natural barrier. 

By cleaning stainless steel, you enable it to become stronger, basically improving its quality each time you wipe its surface. Unlike other materials that may become worn down or damaged by excessive cleaning, there is no such thing as ‘too much cleaning’ when it comes to stainless steel. 

Basic Cleaning 

For basic, everyday cleaning, a soft cloth soaked in warm water should be sufficient to get your stainless steel work surfaces sparkling clean. The addition of a gentle soap or detergent can help you to eliminate tougher residue, but be sure to use only soft cleaning cloths and sponges to avoid scratching the surface while you clean. 

If scratches do occur, you can use a soft nylon scrubber (non-abrasive) to buff out smaller ones, but be sure to buff and rub with the grain to avoid further damaging the surface of our counters or cabinets. 

Gentle Disinfecting

If you want to use something a little more deep cleaning than dish soap, consider doing a gentle disinfecting cleanse using a soft nylon scrubbing sponge, baking soda, and a little bit of vinegar. Simply sprinkle your surface with baking soda, add a few drops of vinegar, and start gently scrubbing away the dirt, grease, and grime. 

Once finished, simply rinse your surface with warm water and dry with a lint-free cloth for a streak-free shine. 

Maintaining Stainless Steel Surfaces

Although stainless steel is naturally non-corrosive, time and misuse can cause stainless steel to begin to rust or show signs of aging. Luckily, stainless steel is not only easy to maintain, but easy to repair as well, so even if you neglect your countertops for a few months, you’ll likely be able to revive them. 

Addressing Rust

If you notice rust appearing on your stainless steel countertops, there are a few options to save the pieces of furniture. First, you can try a method called passivation, a process that removes unwanted residue from the surface of your stainless steel using a solvent, usually a nitric acid solution. 

This process not only cleans the stainless steel of caked on and built-up particulate, iron, rust, etc., but also helps the stainless steel to begin spontaneously producing its own protective layer, which may potentially reverse the effects of the rust. 

If passivation doesn’t appeal to you, and you’d like to go with the more food-safe route for the sake of your facility, try scrubbing the affected area with a cleaning paste-like Bar Keeper’s Friend and a super soft microfiber cloth. Once you have removed the rust and washed off the residual paste, apply a food-safe steel polish to create a shiny finish. 

Preventing Rust

Since stainless steel loves to be cleaned, the best way for you to prevent your furniture and equipment from rusting is to regularly clean it. Even basic cleanings with dish soap and warm water can help the stainless steel to continue naturally protecting itself, so scrub away at your countertops as much as you’d like. 

Chemicals, Products, and Techniques to Avoid

Keeping stainless steel clean is a relatively easy process, and one that you shouldn’t overthink. Sticking to water and gentle detergents is your best bet when it comes to cleaning stainless steel surfaces, but there are a few specific items you should avoid at all costs: 

  • Chlorine and bleach: chlorine and bleach products will eventually ruin the protective surface layer of your stainless steel, and can create pitting and surface disturbances that degrade its resistance to bacterial buildup, grime, moisture, etc.
  • Abrasive cleaners: although stainless steel has extreme tensile strength, the material is relatively easy to scratch. To avoid leaving marks or divots in the surface of your stainless steel, always avoid abrasive cleaners and cleaning products like steel wool, fine powder cleaners, etc.
  • Letting dirt settle: the daily buildup of dirt and grime won’t impact the quality of your stainless steel, but if you let messes sit for too long, they could begin to wear away at the material’s protective layer. If you do leave a mess sitting for too long, passivation can help to reverse the effects.

Choosing Quality Stainless Steel Furniture

At OnePointe Solutions, we carry a huge range of NSF-tested stainless steel products made right here in the USA. Our stainless steel furniture is of the utmost quality, made to last and withstand exposure to regular moisture, heat, etc., that are common in a food processing facility. 

Our full range of products are all fully customizable, and we work hard to collaborate with our clients in order to create their ideal solutions. 

Tables and Workbenches

As with all of our furniture, our tables and workbenches are fully customizable and built to not only be long-lasting and durable, but ergonomic and comfortable for your staff as well. Each of our custom-designed tables or workbenches is built on a heavy-duty frame, and rated to withstand over 2,000 pounds. 

What makes our workbenches extra special is that they can come equipped with a variety of accessories like: 

  • Computer mounts
  • Drawers
  • Mounted casework
  • Installed plugs
  • Steel and particle board pegboards
  • Footrests
  • Casters
  • Keyboard trays
  • Suspended casework

Casework and Storage

Having ample casework and storage space is vital in a food processing setting, since individual ingredients, utensils, containers, and appliances all need room to live when not being used. Stainless steel has become a popular casework and storage option for commercial kitchens and food testing facilities primarily because of its easy to clean surface and incredible resistance to corrosion, heat, and moisture. 

Spills happen, even in storage, so having a surface that is easy to clean and fully sanitize is super important. Stainless steel casework can help your team save time, reducing how much of the day needs to be spent sanitizing work surfaces and storage areas.

Like our workbenches, casework from OnePointe Solutions can be made fully custom to meet your facility’s exact needs. Here are some of the configurations we offer: 

  • Wall-mounted casework
  • Base casework
  • Suspended casework
  • Wall casework
  • Corner cabinets
  • Lab islands
  • Mobile casework (on casters)

Need Stainless Steel for Your Laboratory?

Give us a call at (866) 222-7494 to speak to a representative to get started.

Questions? Concerns? Want to start today? Get in touch. 866.612.7312

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