Charleston laundry earns state's food safety certification

Post & Courier |

Diners concerned about a restaurant’s cleanliness are apt to zero in on bathroom sink grime or streaky water glasses, but a commercial laundry operator warns bacteria can also lurk in aprons and towels.

“Any time you deal with food, you have to be careful,” said James Wells, general manager of the UniFirst Corp.’s Charleston location .

The facility recently became the only laundry in South Carolina to earn a Hygienically Clean Food Safety certification from the TSRA, an international textile organization.

TSRA spokeswoman Angela Freeman said other South Carolina plants are working toward certification, but UniFirst is “the first company in the state to earn this distinction.” She characterized it as a significant achievement.

According to Wells, bringing standards in line with TRSA’s requirements was challenging.

“We have to follow certain procedures,” he said. “We have to wash with certain temperatures. We have to spray the trucks.”

Wells additionally stressed that UniFirst can only be held responsible for the mops, mats and other restaurant accessories it launders: Despite the company’s name, uniforms now account for a small part of its business, partly because there’s been an industry shift toward street clothes.

QSR, a restaurant industry publication, last year reported on trends in food service uniforms, typified by the Dickey’s Barbecue Pit chain swapping its longstanding button-down shirts and bright yellow aprons for untucked plaid shirts and denim aprons with leather straps.

“Many chains are … letting employees choose their own style, as Starbucks has,” the magazine noted, adding that a recent study of businesses revealed 50 percent of them “favored a more casual, self-expressive environment.”

Still, a Dickey’s spokesman was quoted as saying casual isn’t necessarily at odds with cleanliness, which remains a top priority for restaurants and patrons.

“It’s good for us, and it’s good for the customers, that they don’t have to worry,” UniFirst’s Wells said of the certification, which covers the work it does for Charleston area restaurants ranging from independently owned joints to Ruby Tuesday.

“When it gets to them, it’s in plastic, and it’s been clean and processed and it’s germ-free,” he said. “We have to test.”

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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