Yesterday I had the first day of the obligatory course in food hygiene that all persons have to attend who so much as touch a single piece of food destined to be eaten by someone else. We offer a meals package to anglers, so therefore that includes us. There’s another half day of lectures next Monday morning, and then our trainer, Françoise, will be visiting us in turn to give us advice and draw up an overall plan to help us better run our various entreprises.

We were a mixed bunch. Maxime, Christophe, David, Francis, Valérie and Cristelle were French and all ran restaurants of various sizes and types. Then there was the English contingent consisting of Nik and me. Nik runs a B and B at St Germain Beaupré, and as you probably know by know, I run a g__îte de p__êche (holiday cottage with lakes and fishing) together with Chris. Both Nik and I do relatively few meals compared with the pros, but we still have to go to this course. It’s not really suitable for us since we don’t have dedicated kitchens with cold storage rooms and walk-in freezers like the others. We don’t have lorries delivering food to us, and whose interior temperatures we should go in and check for ourselves before accepting a consignment of something perishable from them! There’s a lot that’s not relevant but tant pis !

It was very slow-going to start with. It took over two-hours for everyone to introduce themselves. The French are friendly people who love to talk, and adore going off on tangents. It was all very interesting but not getting us anywhere. However, after a coffee-less coffee break – the machine at the CCI training centre in Gueret was out of café, horrors – we got down to business.

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Now, do you know what the 5 Ms of cleaning are? In French of course? I would have settled for just one M word relating to it, Miserable, but that wasn’t on the list. Instead we had: 1. Methode/Manière (how hard to scrub basically); 2. Matériels – what to use; 3. Main d’oeuvre, which is essentially labour, workforce i.e. human input; 4. Milieu – place, and 5. Matiére, what it is you’re actually cleaning. Like I said, Miserable sums it up!

And then there’s TACT which is Temps (time), Action Méchanique (elbow grease), Concentration (correct dosage of cleaning materials) and Température (correct temperature for the cleaning i.e. do you use hot or cold water).

We spent a lot of time learning about mineral and organic souillures (taints, stains) and saw plenty of slides of magnified microbes. Scary stuff. You have to tackle acidic souillures with alkaline products and alkaline souillures with acidic products, before finally disinfecting them to finish off any remaining nasties. This gives us the 7 stages of washing, notably: 1. Prewashing, 2. Washing with alkaline cleaner, 3. Rinsing, 4. Washing with acidic cleaner, 5. Rinsing, 6. Disinfecting, 7. Rinsing. We were all rather gobsmacked by that. We’d all thought a good clean with an all-in-one detergent cum disinfectant did the job properly.

There’s a difference important between cleaning and disinfecting. Cleaning removes the visible stuff and makes things look nice, but it’s the disinfecting that is the business end and deals with the microbes. However, only temporarily. The little horrors don’t take long to get going again. Spores are particularly tough to deal with.

We touched on the practicalities toward the end starting with different coloured lingettes (cloths) for cleaning different zones of the kitchen – one use only before being washed or disgarded. And know that sponges are a total no-go area. They harbour too many germs so mustn’t be used. Brushes are fine so long as they have plastic bristles, and you can only use plastic-bristled brooms too. These have to be disinfected after every use and be stored hanging on the wall. They mustn’t be left in contact with the floor. The chemicals you use must be stored in themed plastic boxes (detergents together, disinfectants together, etc) and you’re meant to wear gloves and safetly glasses when you use them.

And that’s just for starters! Whether it’s a) achievable with a bit of effort, b) all a tad over the top or c) totally impractical I’ll leave you to decide.  However, it’s the ideal we must aim for and need to put plans and protocols in place to show that we are following an organised approach to our cleaning.

The goal of all this is not to make customers ill, a very important one. Common sense cleaning and basic hygiene will assure this, but you have to go several steps beyond in order to make it obvious that you are being sensible and conscientious.

So – time to go and scrub my kitchen!