Seeking the perfect kitchen floor

Seeking the perfect kitchen floor

Bonnie Zietlow

Making a choice requires a careful look at how the kitchen will function, at what’s involved in installation and at maintenance requirements.

During the last few decades some impressive materials have emerged that come remarkably close to the ideal flooring for a commercial kitchen. The most common materials used today are quarry tile, epoxy composites, Hubbellite, vinyl composite sheets and vinyl tile. Knowing how your foodservice areas will function, what equipment will be used and what activities are planned will help you decide which one is right for you. Here’s a look at the options available:

* Quarry tile. This is the most widely used floor finish in food preparation areas. Though it’s been around for centuries, the version we use in kitchens today has been perfected for these special environments. Unglazed, kiln-fired tiles are formed from a mixture of clay, coloring agents and silicon carbide, an aggregate added for slip resistance.

Quarry tiles made with aggregate pressed into the top surface are not recommended because the aggregate literally wears off. For most foodservice applications, a minimum 3/8-inch-thick tile is sufficient. If heavy mobile transport carts or racks are used, the tile should be at least 1/2-inch thick; 3/4-inch if the equipment has metal casters. In heavy-duty food processing plants, thicker tiles or even bricks are used.

The traditional method for installing a tile floor is to use a “setting bed,” a layer of cement on which the tiles are laid. The advantage of the setting bed is that it can be sloped toward area drains, facilitating steam cleaning or pressure cleaning. This also prevents standing water from damaging the tile system. A second, less costly method is to spread a layer of mortar to create a smooth surface, add a layer of adhesive on the prepared base building floor and then lay the tiles. This type of installation is called “dry-set” or “thin-set” and is basically flat. Sometimes a “dish” is created around each area drain to help collect water, but drainage will be poor.

Quarry tile is very durable and has excellent resistance to food acids and stains. These skid-proof tiles come in a number of sizes and attractive colors. If a tile is cracked or damaged, it can simply be replaced.

The disadvantage of this flooring system is not the tile itself, but the grout used to fill the spaces between the tiles. Epoxy composite grout is more durable than the cement type, but both are susceptible to deterioration in constantly wet areas such as near dish washing, wet food preparation and wet cooking. Once water invades the area under the tile, it can loosen and break.

The cleaning regimen for the tile is simple–a mop and hot, soapy water will do the job. The challenge is cleaning and sanitizing the grout lines that can stain and hold on to dirt. To deal with this, tile manufacturers recommend using one of several efficient cleaning agents created specifically for this task. A mechanical floor scrubber can also make this task easier. If properly installed and maintained, a quarry tile floor can last for decades.

* Epoxy composite. These floor systems are composed of layers that are applied one at a time. In general terms, these layers include epoxy resin mortars that are troweled on, intermediate sealer layers, an aggregate layer that is broadcast over the top layer and finally, a clear epoxy finish to seal the floor. The resulting floor material is a nominal 3/16-inch to 1/4-inch thick. Most manufacturers make an epoxy floor system formulated specifically for food preparation areas. After years of testing, an epoxy floor has become available that can withstand extreme temperatures around fryers and other cooking equipment.

Epoxy composite floors are moderately durable, with about half the breaking strength of quarry tile. The flooring material is resilient, skid-proof and impervious to moisture, food acids and scuff marks. Cracks can easily be repaired with special epoxy filler.

The biggest advantage of these floors is that they are seamless, without joints or cracks to harbor dirt. A drawback is the aggregate that, with some epoxy floors, tends to accumulate dirt and make cleaning difficult. Keep in mind that the amount of aggregate can be adjusted during application. If too little is used, slip resistance will decrease. If too much is used, mops will catch on the rough surface. Most manufacturers recommend using a mechanical floor scrubber for best results.

Depending on the level of maintenance and the extent of abuse, these floors can last 10 years or more. Eventually, replacement of the top coat maybe necessary. Contractors who are experienced with epoxy floor systems must do the installation.

* Hubbellite. This poured seamless floor entered the market in the 1940s. Use in commercial kitchens began 20 years later. Though not as well known as other finishes, it is definitely worth considering. Composed of a mixture of cement, limestone, copper and magnesium compounds, and some proprietary additives, the finished floor is a nominal 1/2-inch thick.

The steps for installing Hubbellite include cleaning the building slab or existing floor, applying a latex bond coat, troweling on the Hubbellite and topping the cured floor with a dressing coat. It is non-toxic during installation, and non-combustible after installation. To a limited extent, the flooring material can be sloped around area drains.

The benefits of this floor are many. It is strong, resilient, slip-resistant and very comfortable to walk on. It is often used for renovations because it can be installed over any surface, including quarry tile. It has good resistance to moisture, and excellent resistance to food acids and stains. The copper and magnesium compounds prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus, and make it repellent to cockroaches. Cleaning is simple: Just mop it.

As with any poured floor, a trained contractor is needed to install it. About 20 years ago I specified Hubbellite for a large cafeteria kitchen and can report that it is still in good condition. Its one drawback, if you’re picky about color, is that it comes only in brick red.

* Composite sheet vinyl. For foodservice applications, this type of flooring is available in a half dozen or more colors. The sheets are composed of high-quality vinyl with a fully integrated aggregate for slip resistance. Additional aggregate is usually pressed into the top of the 1/8-inch-thick sheets. Some manufacturers add a non-woven backing to give the sheets more strength and make them easier to handle. Installation involves preparing the base building floor, applying an adhesive and installing the sheets of vinyl composite. Heat welding is used to seal the flooring sheets and coved bases at the walls.

A word of warning: Contractors who are only trained to install residential sheet vinyl are not qualified for this type of flooring. In some cases the floor’s warranty will be voided if an untrained contractor is used.

These attractive, seamless floors are fairly durable, with excellent resistance to moisture and food acids. They are superior in wet areas, where they function as an additional waterproof membrane and offer good resistance to slipping. They compress when stepped on, making them comfortable underfoot. Many incorporate an antibacterial agent. The downside of vinyl composite floors is that they are susceptible to staining and denting. Some types of rubber found on shoes or equipment wheels can leave scuff marks. For these reasons, darker colors are often preferable. It’s easy to mop composite vinyl floors, but periodic cleaning with a deck scrubbing brush or scrubbing machine is important to maintain the floor’s appearance, slip resistance and resistance to bacteria. If properly maintained, it will last for years.

* Vinyl tile. This flooring is still considered a legal floor finish for commercial foodservice facilities, so we should mention it. This material comes in two forms, sheets or squares, that are made with vinyl topped with a layer of colored vinyl and a finish coat. It is readily available, inexpensive, easy to install and easy to clean. Caution should be exercised when using this material in a kitchen. It is slippery when wet, wears easily, can be damaged by heat from cooking equipment and eventually succumbs to food acids. I have seen it used with some success in dry storage areas, but don’t recommend it for commercial applications.

Bonnie Zietlow is a partner and founder of Culinary Advisors, a foodservice design and consulting firm with offices in Virginia and Maryland that offers planning services from concept development to bid documents to construction assistance.

Asparagus ‘tips’

Asparagus is at its peak from now until June or July. Here are some ways to help keep those delicate spears moving.

* Storage temperature: 32-41[degrees]F, with at least 95 percent humidity to prevent shrinkage, weight loss and decay. Turns woody and loses flavor if stored at room temperature.

* Display: To keep spears moist and crisp, display bunches, tips up, in an inch or so of water. Check water level regularly; when one bunch is pulled out, the others may fall into the water. This method can encourage mold; another approach is to use a moist mat at the ends instead of standing water. Mist lightly or not at all.

* Merchandising/promotion: During this peak season, display in bulk in front of regular displays to interrupt the customer. Use a rack extender to draw attention. Offering two sizes–either together, or with one size merchandised with lettuce and salad ingredients–can boost asparagus sales by 60 percent. Cross-merchandise with stir-fry ingredients, various seasonings and dips, hollandaise sauce and reduced-calorie or fat-free dressings. Red new potatoes, tomatoes and red onions make excellent produce partners.

Sources: Washington Asparagus Commission, California Asparagus Commission and the Produce Marketing Associations’ 1999 Produce Availability & Merchandising Guide.

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