Everyone who has worked in a restaurant is familiar with the “red bucket process” of cleaning dining room tables. To safely reuse wiping cloths, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires them to be held in a sanitizer solution—often in a red bucket.
However, science shows that the red bucket process might not be very effective—and it could be doing actual harm. The sanitizer concentration must stay at certain levels to prevent bacteria growth and virus contamination, but as the cloths are reused over time, the sanitizer levels can drop. In a 2006 study from the University of Arizona, researchers went to real-world bars and restaurants to sample the reusable wiping cloths in the buckets. They discovered high levels of bacteria in the cloths and found that the cloths actually helped to increase bacterial levels on the tables as staff wiped them down.
“This study found a pretty substantial increase in bacteria on the tables after the cloths were used,” says Dr. Chip Manuel, food safety science advisor at GOJO Industries, Inc.
A more recent study from North Carolina State University researchers reported similar findings in 2020. These researchers found the potential for viruses to spread from table to table, even when the sanitizer concentration was kept at proper levels. This has implications for norovirus, the #1 cause of foodborne illness in the United States.
“There’s a risk of cross-contamination with the traditional red bucket process,” Manuel says. “As a replacement, the obvious answer is disposable wipes, which are gaining popularity. Not only are they more effective at controlling cross-contamination, but they simplify the process.”
PURELL® Foodservice Sanitizing Wipes are effective against Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, and even norovirus, the number-one cause of foodborne illness. These wipes are one of the few products on the market designed to sanitize food-contact surfaces without rinsing that can also kill norovirus. They have also been found to kill human coronavirus—the source of COVID-19—in 30 seconds.
“Norovirus cases slowed during the pandemic, but we’re starting to see a lot more outbreaks again,” Manuel says. “We need to keep up the enhanced sanitation and hygiene that became the norm during COVID. It will help control norovirus better than ever before.”
The red bucket process has a lot of steps, from measuring and maintaining the sanitizer concentration to making sure the water doesn’t become cloudy from food debris to keeping a supply of freshly laundered cloth towels on hand. All of these steps are eliminated when a restaurant introduces disposable wipes.
“If you have one point of failure with the red bucket process, the whole thing just goes wrong, and you could be putting the facility at risk for violation or even spreading germs that could cause an issue,” Manuel says. “The power of disposable wipes is in how simple they are to use and teach others to use.” With the ongoing labor shortage and high turnover rates in the industry, it can be difficult to maintain complex processes over time. Reusable cloths are supposed to be followed by the application of sanitizer, but this step often gets lost. Disposable wipes can clean up food debris and sanitize in a single step—making it much easier to train new employees.
PURELL Foodservice Sanitizing Wipes have no harsh chemicals, which employees may prefer over dipping their hands in a red bucket multiple times a day. These wipes help employees save time and energy while ensuring consistent performance.
“It’s ‘one and done’—you wipe the table and walk away,” Manuel says. “Employee satisfaction comes from the ease of use and from knowing they’re using something extremely effective.”
To understand more about how disposable wipes can help save on labor and help protect restaurants, visit the PURELL Foodservice Sanitizing Wipes website.
By Kara Phelps