Cleaning Without Hidden Ingredients and with No Chemicals

By Robert Kravitz for Restaurant Hospitality

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that food manufacturers list all the ingredients that go into their products except for “incidental” ingredients, many of which are lost in the manufacturing process. This is referred to as “full ingredient disclosure,” which allows the consumer not only to know what is in a product but to make informed choices.

However, according to Dr. Harry Pellman, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California at Irvine, studies dating back to the early 2000s indicate that as many as a quarter of all food manufacturers surveyed don’t follow these requirements to list all ingredients in their products—and some of those unlisted ingredients can potentially cause allergic reactions.

For instance, in one study, a quarter of the 85 cookie and ice cream manufacturers surveyed did have raw nuts in varying quantities in their products but did not list them on the label. Peanuts can cause allergic reactions, especially in young children. With a full ingredient disclosure program in place, a mother, aware that her child can have an allergic reaction to a certain type of nut, would be able to make a selection between this cookie with peanuts and one without.

Image source: WebMD

Beyond the food industry, full ingredient disclosure programs are found or being considered in other industries as well. For instance, the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 would require cosmetic makers to list all ingredients in their products, especially those that are potentially harmful.* And because restaurants typically use large amounts of cleaning chemicals to maintain their properties, managers/owners should be aware that there are now calls for cleaning chemicals, both conventional and Green, to list all ingredients in their products as well.

“We have known for decades that some ingredients in conventional cleaning chemicals can be harmful to people and the environment,” says Stephen Ashkin, President of The Ashkin Group and the professional cleaning industry’s leading advocate for Green Cleaning. “What we are realizing now is that even some Green Cleaning chemicals, while they may be far safer to use, may still include ingredients that could pose a health risks.”

Ashkin says the goal of a full ingredient disclosure program—whether it is for food, cosmetics, or cleaning products—is to help end customers and consumers “make the best product selection to serve their specific needs. In the long run, these programs build greater trust in the manufacturer and the product while also protecting health and the environment.”

The concept sounds simple enough; however, it is meeting some opposition. For instance, some believe full ingredient disclosure is not necessary because the material safety data sheets (MSDS) included with all cleaning chemicals sold in the United States already list the product’s ingredients. However, this is not correct. The MSDS is designed to list ingredients in a product that might potentially be hazardous or hazardous above specific thresholds.

Additionally, some chemical manufacturers are resisting a full ingredient disclosure program because it might require them to divulge trade secrets.** “What I expect to evolve in time is a balanced approach,” says Ashkin. “One that protects the manufacturer while still providing the end customers the information they need to make a proper selection.”

The Chemical-Free Alternative

While discussions continue regarding full ingredient disclosure, some cleaning equipment manufacturers are developing machines that do not require the use of chemicals at all to clean—and in some cases sanitize surfaces as well.

Here are two examples of this:

Vapor cleaning technologies: These machines clean by releasing a hot mist (usually 250 degrees Fahrenheit or more) onto surfaces. Cleaning chemicals, hydrogen peroxide, and disinfectants can be added to the solution to help kill bacteria; however, in many cases, the heated vapor is effective without adding chemical agents.

Spray-and-vac cleaning systems: Initially designed specifically for cleaning restrooms, these systems (also known as no-touch cleaning systems) are used for a variety of cleaning tasks. Some spray-and-vac systems are so effective they are recognized as “sanitizing devices” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even without the addition of chemicals when used correctly. This means there is a greater than 99.9 percent bacterial reduction on surfaces using these systems without chemicals.

“Ultimately, the development of full ingredient disclosure programs for cleaning products and the adoption of chemical-free cleaning systems and equipment means effective, healthier, more environmentally responsible cleaning options for restaurant managers and owners,” says Ashkin. “This is the goal of Green Cleaning, whether in schools, offices, or restaurants.”


*As of June 2011, this bill is still under consideration and has not passed Congress.

**According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, IT trade secrets and intellectual property (IP) refer to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.