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Many chemical cleaners, detergents, and soaps used by restaurants contain caustic, toxic, volatile, and petroleum based ingredients that can provoke skin, eye, and respiratory reactions; cause headaches, depression, ear infections, and diarrhea.  These ingredients also contaminate the environment during production and disposal. Luckily there are alternatives available that are readily biodegradable, renewable, non-toxic, ph neutral, and petroleum-fee.  These products are also available in concentrated forms, and packaged in returnable or recyclable packaging to further reduce the pollution associated with shipping these chemicals.  These recommendations do not contain carcinogens, mutagens, teratogens, neurotoxins, ozone depleters, phosphates, or volatile organic compounds.


Top 5 Steps a Food Service Facility Can Take to Decrease Chemical Use & Pollution:

1. Purchase less toxic general cleaning products and hand soaps that have been reviewed by a third party, such as the Green Restaurant Association, Green Seal or the EPA’s Design for Environment program

2. Find a pest management company with a Green Shield or Green Pro certified integrated pest management (IPM) program.

3. Install alternative fuel refueling stations, such as electric car charging stations.

4. Work with your distributors to purchase unbleached pan liner, deli sheets and pastry / bread bags.

5. For lighting applications that require fluorescent lighting, either linear tube bulbs or CFL’s, purchase low mercury bulbs.


  1. General Cleaning Products

Most conventional cleaning products are made from petroleum or petroleum distillates, and contain alkyphenol ethoxylates, which are suspected hormone disruptors, and may contain carcinogenic 1,4-dioxane.  Traditionally these cleaners do not readily biodegrade, and threaten aquatic ecosystems and wildlife after disposal.  The fragrances in some products can contain phthalates, which have been linked to cancer and reproductive-system harm in animal lab tests. Some cleaners may also contain phosphates, which contaminate aquatic environments and are highly caustic and potentially fatal if swallowed. 


For this reason the GRA recommends cleaners that are non-toxic; readily biodegradable (do not form micro-toxins or require water treatment); and safe for grey-water reuse systems and septic tanks. They also do not contain any known or suspected carcinogens petroleum distillates, butyl ether, ammonia, chlorine, phosphates, benzene, pine oil or strong acids, and are sold in bulk and concentrated form. Remember, “green” cleaning products may act differently than their conventional counterparts – for example, they may create less suds – so it’s important to train your staff and explain why you are making the switch.


Standard: Look for general cleaning products that have been certified by a third parts, such as the EPA’s Design for Environment program, Green Seal, or GRA’s Endorsement Standard.


  1. Dish Machine Products

Unfortunately there are no truly environmentally benign commercial dish machine products on the market at this time. The GRA recommends solid products that are non-caustic, and use less energy, 98% less packaging, and produce fewer harmful chemicals upon disposal than conventional commercial detergents.


  1. Disinfectants & Sanitizers

Many disinfectants and sanitizers contain chlorine bleach, which is highly caustic.  Upon disposal, chlorine can lead to the production of organochlorines, which are suspected carcinogens as well as reproductive, neurological, and immune-system toxins. If chlorine bleaches are accidentally mixed with any product containing ammonia or quaternary compounds they can produce a highly toxic chlorine gas. In general the most environmentally benign disinfectant is 100% botanical and does not contain any chlorine or ammonia compounds.  Other options are  electrolyzed water or peracetic acid disinfectant, which is approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute. It’s important to note that you may need to apply for a waiver from the local Board of Health should you decide to use one of these alternatives.


  1. Hand Soap

Antibacterial soap should be eliminated from your food service operations because it promotes chemical resistance in bacteria and is unnecessarily harsh.  Look for hand soaps that meet one of the following standards: EPA’s Design for Environment, Green Seal, or GRA’s Endorsement Standard.


  1. Chafing Fuel

Most chafing fuels are petroleum fuel based, and contain hazardous ingredients that require special storage and cause land and water pollution upon disposal. Instead of using chafing fuels that burn petroleum, choose non-toxic alternatives made from less harmful chemicals, such as ethanol, to reduce pollution. The ethanol-based fuel burns cleaner, hotter, and more efficiently than petroleum-based fuel and is a renewable resource. Ethanol chafing fuel produces 50% less carbon dioxide emissions than petroleum based chafing fuel.


  1. Pest Management

The best way to avoid unwanted pests, such as insects and rodents, is the use of non-chemical methods, such as direct heat and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM methods focus on eliminating pests by removing their sources of food and water through proper cleanliness, sealing, and screening. If necessary, less toxic chemicals can be used as a last resort. 



Keep in mind that the solution may be as simple as cleaning out your garbage bins or sealing any cracks in the floors or walls.  When using a pest control company, choose businesses that have been certified green by third parties, such as GreenShield, GreenPro or EcoWise.


  1. Candles

Did you know that indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air? One way to reduce indoor air pollution is to choose environmentally sustainable candles that are made from soy or beeswax instead of harmful paraffin, and do not contain lead in the wicks.


  1. Textiles

Choose environmentally sustainable uniforms, chef’s coats, merchandise, linens and napkins that are made from organic cotton, rapidly renewable materials (such as hemp) or recycled textiles. Look for TRSA Clean Green linen services.


Provide staff with non-white uniforms, as they require less hot water and fewer chemicals to clean.




Additional Items:

Regular vehicle maintenance will reduce the amount of air pollution emitted from the vehicle and allow it to use gas more efficiently.


Use live plants throughout the restaurant to improve indoor air quality.


Make steps to reduce the amount of transportation and greenhouse gas emissions associated with your restaurant. For example:

  1. Hire local staff

  2. Purchase wood products harvested less than 500 miles away from you

  3. Patronize local vendors

  4. Plan delivery / pick-up routes to minimize driving

  5. Arrange for a single vendor who makes deliveries for several items

  6. Encourage staff to car-pool to work


Regularly check and maintain storm drains located on your property to keep litter, debris, and soil away from storm drains.


Use shut-off valves at storm drains, or secondary containment in order to capture spills.

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