New research suggests that while chemical detergents are the most effective way of removing micro-organisms, they are also the most expensive, highlighting the problems food processors face in balancing food safety with cost issues.
The research, carried out this month by the UK Campden Chorleywood Food Research Association (CCFRA), was aimed at helping manufacturers comply with increasingly stringent food safety rules without spending too much money.
"This research will help industry appreciate where the greatest costs are incurred and optimise these - for example, through better use of water, cleaning chemicals and energy," the association said.
For the study, the CCFRA attached several stainless steel surfaces to rigs designed to measure cleanliness and water pressure.
The surfaces, each covered with a biofilm of the potentially dangerous bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, were then cleaned using hot or cold water, with various pressures, and with or without a cleaning chemical.
Unfortunately for food manufacturers, the results did not come up with one decisive optimal cleaning method, as the most expensive option, a hot water and chemical mix, also removed more bacteria.
Manufacturers wishing to avoid chemicals nonetheless will find hot water rather than cold, while impact pressure has no significant affect on microbial removal, the CCFRA said.
Longer washes may also be better than short, the association added, but "the longer washes necessary for the greatest effect are unlikely to be practicable."
Several environmental bodies have in recent months also started to worry about the effect of chemical cleaners - not only on profits but also on the environment - and as a results are now encouraging companies to invest in environmentally friendly alternatives.
Last week, the Tennant Company marketed zapped water, or in other worlds electrically activated tap water, as a replacement for industrial cleaners.
The company claimed that charging water in this way results in an acidic and alkaline liquid just as powerful as chemical cleaners.
Any company using the product saves money from not buying detergents, but also helps protect the environment, Tennant claimed.
Spanish researchers have also claimed that fatty alcohols, such as ethoxilated and alkylpolyglucosids, are an equally effective and ecological alternative to commercial detergents.