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Debra Smith
Debra Smith
Global Hygiene Specialist

The use of sponges and scourers for cleaning

A question we get asked a LOT about is the use of sponges and scourers for cleaning and, like most things in the food industry, the answer should be based on risk assessment.

Overall, the use of sponges and scourers is NOT something we would recommend. This is because they,

  • are very often poorly managed as a cleaning tool;
  • can quickly became a source of contamination, and spread microbes, allergens, and foreign bodies (including pieces of the sponge or scourer itself);
  • are virtually impossible to clean and disinfect adequately;
  • can scratch the surface they are cleaning and make them more difficult to clean in the future; and
  • are rarely made of food contact compliant material.

However, we do know that they are widely used by the food industry and that, sometimes, there really is no better alternative for removing a hazardous soil.

Consequently, the advice we would offer is,

  1. that sponges/scouring pads are not intended to come into direct contact with food;

  2. to weigh up the risk of using the sponge/scourer, against the risk posed by the hazard you are trying to remove. If the risk from the hazard is greater, then use of the sponge/scourer may be justifiable;

  3. ensure that sponge/scourer use is managed properly including,
    a. where they are used,
    b. how long they are used for,
    c. how frequently they are changed;

  4. to choose high quality sponges/scourers to minimise the risk of their degradation during use.

We would always recommend that,

  • different sponge/scourers are used for surfaces with different hazards, e.g., allergen vs non-allergens,
  • and different risk levels, e.g., raw vs cooked processing surfaces, food contact vs non-food contact surfaces etc.;
  • sponges/scourers of a contrasting colour to the food being produced is used, to aid visual detection of any pieces of the sponge/scourer that may break off;
  • they are not used for more than one cleaning session;
  • they are disposed of after use rather than be cleaned/disinfected and re-used; and
  • that the cleaned surfaces be thoroughly rinsed with clean water afterwards to maximise removal of any sponge/scourer fragments.

Over the last couple of years a few alternatives to the traditional sponge/scourer have appeared on the market. Some do now claim to be food contact compliant, reduce surface abrasion, and be more durable (reduced foreign body risk from the sponge/scourer itself). However, fundamentally, all surface cleaning options should be risk assessed and would still require proper management to ensure that microbial, allergen and foreign body hazards are controlled.

As an alternative from our range, we would recommend food contact compliant, short stiff bristled hand brushes.

These will be more durable and less abrasive to the surface but will still need to be managed in the same way as the sponge/scourer, with the exception that they could be cleaned and disinfected (even sterilised if required) after use and be re-used.

They can also be selected in colours that contrast with the food type being produced, so that any foreign bodies they create are easier to see and remove.

You might also find the study found at this link interesting!