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Dealing with Mold in a Walk-In Cooler

Food Safety Rules are Strict

If you run a restaurant, then you know that the rules about food safety and the cleanliness of your walk-in coolers are incredibly strict. Everyone who handles food must know about how fast you need to heat, cool, and how long you can store containers of ingredients and leftovers. And straying from your best practices could result in serious health risks. Not to mention health inspection violations.

But sometimes setbacks happen even when you're doing everything right. And finding mold in the walk-in cooler is one of those sometimes unavoidable setbacks. Maybe you left the door open too long. Maybe pan of sauce wasn't fully sealed when stored. Or maybe the mold just got in and found a cozy corner to start growing in. No matter how it happened, you've got to identify and eradicate that cooler mold fast before it causes a health risk for customers or staff.


dentifying Walk-In Cooler Mold

Mold in your walk-in cooler comes in a number of varieties, which is why every restaurateur and staff member needs to become a pro at spotting mold the moment it becomes visible. There are two primary types of walk-in cooler mold. The kind that grows on walls cardboard boxes, and the kind that grows inside food containers.

Food mold can vary wildly and most chefs and restaurant staff can spot it in an instant. Usually seen as fuzzy growths or visible discoloration on the surface of a food item. But the wall and cardboard variety can be a little more elusive. The most common type can be seen as gray and brown splotchy growths, usually starting in a corner or on cardboard boxes that have become damp with melting and re-freezing ice.

Also watch out for a type of mold that appears as a white powder on surfaces. This will be distinct because it's not frost, but can easily be mistaken for cooler frost at a glance.

If you see any signs of wall and box mold growth in your cooler, you'll need a full cleaning and probably mold remediation. But frequent mold growth inside properly managed food containers can be another sign if invisible infestation that may need to be dealt with by professionals.

How the Mold Got There

Mold spores are everywhere, all the time. They are a type of fungus that releases spores into the air constantly. From the outside, from the building, from other buildings. It comes in on the wind, on our clothes and shoes, and any time a door is opened. And mold spores live a long time, like seeds, waiting for an opportunity to grow.

The moment a mold spore alights on a moist surface, it tries to grow. If it has an organic porous material like cardboard or food to grow on, all the better. Most mold dies before it thrives. But when mold finds the right environment, it spreads like fuzzy, poisonous wildfire.

Mold like warm, damp environments best but it can also grow in the cold if the other circumstances like moisture and food source are right. This is why mold gets into your walk-in cooler. It's not someone 'spreading mold around' or even improper cooler procedures. Mold is just really tenacious and, as humans, we have been fighting a nearly invisible war with it for centuries.

However, there are things that can make it more likely for mold to grow in your cooler. Excessive moisture, insufficient ventilation, and opening the cooler door frequently all increase the temperature and exposure to additional mold spores.

Health Risks

As a food service professional, you know full well that any food that has started growing mold must be thrown out. This is because many varieties of mold release something called mycotoxins, which are a special kind of poison that mold can release. These can result in a variety of symptoms ranging from food poisoning to death.

However, mold can also pose a very serious risk to your staff. Mold spores can also contain mycotoxins and become airborne when released during the seeding phase of the mold's life cycle. Spores are also released when mold is disturbed, as when mold-covered boxes are moved or when you start cleaning out the mold in your walk-in cooler.

Mold exposure to skin, eyes, and lungs can cause rashes, burning eyes and allergy symptoms, and the very serious health risks of mycotoxin exposure. Particularly if you are dealing with some of the more dangerous varieties of mold like stachybotrys (black mold) which can result in stachybotrystoxicosis. This is why you should hire professionals for dealing with extensive mold and always have your staff wear gloves and masks when doing mold cleaning in-house.

Legal Risks

Of course, as a restaurant, you also have some serious legal risks when it comes to mold exposure. Especially if an entire walk-in cooler is exposed to a large mold growth.

The first worry, naturally, is failing your next health inspection. With the added penalty of having to close until you can pass the reinspection, this can be catastrophic for a growing restaurant. Especially if the results of your health inspection wind up on the internet. Which, unfortunately, can lead to further legal troubles.

If a customer gets sick or successfully claims that your food exposed them to mold toxins, your restaurant could be sued for liability. But the legal worries don't stop there. Your own staff could also become a worker's comp problem a staff member gets sick while cleaning up the mold. Mold sickness due to direct exposure is a very real risk, even if there wasn't a single dish prepared with mold-exposed food.

How to Eradicate the Mold

Finally, if you have found mold anywhere in your restaurant's walk-in cooler, you need to think carefully about how to get rid of it. If there's only a little mold, a light film of fuzz on a wall or box, this should be easy to handle. Equip your team with gloves, long sleeves, and face masks and scrub out the cooler from top to bottom. Remove everything, check for any signs of mold, and scrub every exposed surface with a mixture of dish soap, water, and a little borax and/or vinegar.

However, if the mold is extensive or if there is a large mass of it, you may need to call in a mold remediation service. Especially if the mold has taken root in the infrastructure of your cooler like the grout, vents, and walls. In this case, remove and clean everything you can save, storing in external coolers while mold experts make sure no mold masses or spores escape the current cooler fiasco.

Mold in your restaurant walk-in cooler does not have to be a disaster. As long as you deal with it swiftly and completely. With the help of a mold remediation service and rigorous cleaning protocols, you should be mold-free in no time and ready to put your walk-in cooler back into use. For more information about what to do when you find mold in your restaurant walk-in cooler, contact us today.

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