Rack cleaning requires more than a token effort - The Packer

Rack cleaning requires more than a token effort

09/28/2012 08:40:00 AM
Armand Lobato

Armand Lobato, The Produce AisleArmand Lobato, The Produce AisleDoing a good job is so much more than just trying to do so.

I’m sure the temporary referees that the National Football League recently installed are trying their best, for example, but all it takes is one Monday morning at the office water cooler to hear what fans really think about all the questionable calls.

It goes back to what my silver-haired mom (and everyone’s mom, I’m sure) used to say, “If you’re going to do a job, do it right or don’t bother!”

Take for example the average vegetable case (green rack, wet rack) cleaning in produce departments. It’s a rare chain that does this simple procedure correctly.

In the chains I’ve supervised, many produce managers, when pinned down on the subject, said, “We clean one section (4 feet) every week.”

So even if they were on schedule (they weren’t), it would take 15 weeks to clean a 60-foot rack. On average, if a produce department cleaned their entire case using this piecemeal procedure, it would be cleaned three times a year.


This is no way to clean a fresh produce case. Anyone who has ever torn apart a vegetable rack knows what lies beneath: all the muck and slime from vegetable remnants that regularly fall between all the shelves and case liners.

Because vegetables arrive with bits of dirt, the misting system rinses the resulting mud into the base of the rack. Lots of mud. So if a store cleans a token section of case at a time, whatever mud is in the rest of the case simply backflows into the “clean” section. Talk about counterproductive.

The only effective way is to pull every item weekly. Tuesday night usually works well. Then every divider, display tray, case liner, rack and everything down to the drains is removed, cleaned and sanitized. The mirrors and the front panels of the case get wiped down too. Afterwards, the process is reversed, and the rack is reassembled, ready for the set-up person to start fresh the following morning.

Is this possible? I should know. I was the bottom-seniority, rack cleaner for several years. And I stripped and cleaned the case (usually alone) every week. Our labor plan was as tight as anything I see today too, and we got it done.

In a time where health and safety precautions are a top priority, it only makes sense to do this job completely and thoroughly on a regular basis. If you wait for a health department inspection, it could cost you far more in the long run.

“It’s a fresh, food-selling environment,” a produce manager I worked for once said. “We have to keep things clean.”

Good call.

Note: Next week Rusty Blade chimes in about setting up that freshly cleaned wet rack.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.


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Florida  |  October, 01, 2012 at 07:40 AM

Those same retail chains that can't keep their own houses clean still insist on forcing their suppliers' grower/packers to spend obscene amounts of cash keeping the packing house sanitized and inspected. The packers need to ensure that everyone washes and sanitizes their hands AND wears gloves. Any product that touches the floor needs to be destroyed. Environmental samples need to be tested for pathogens. BUT, then you go to the grocery store to see countless masses of customers caressing the fruit with ZERO hand washing, the produce guy placing back on the shelves apples/lettuce that fell to the filthy floor, and all sorts of caked on grime hiding out in the displays. I say it is long past due for the retailers to get a taste of the medicine they force upon all the grower/packers.

Robert Madison    
Milan  |  November, 14, 2012 at 07:29 AM

Thank You for this article. I'm the guy who religiously breaks down a 12 foot section of the wet rack every Tuesday. The only problem is , other members of the department do not realize the importance of keeping a consistent schedule throughout the year. The cleanining seems to suffer setbacks during the summer vacation months, July-September. I often find this unacceptable, not to mention the drain problems and an extra effort to regain cleanliness once back on track.

New York  |  January, 16, 2013 at 02:14 PM

I am in charge of cleaning a 48' rack monthly in my produce department. I can't help but agree with everything the author states, as well as the comments that follow below. It is single-handedly, the most time consuming and labor-intensive task in a produce department. How do I succeed? Trying to maintain as much consistency as possible, arguing with the familiar "let's wait until next week" attitude, and strict attention to detail. Each month, I clean 2/5 of the case the first week (20'), and 3/5 of the case the next week (28'). Total time for me working by myself is about 13 hours per month. Thirteen hours times twelve months a year = 156 hours a year. A small price to pay for food safety.

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