By Kendall Youngworth
When it comes to installing flooring in commercial kitchens, several important, high-level factors to consider are hygiene, safety, durability, and compliance with the regulations set forth by the various agencies that monitor food facilities. Commercial kitchens are closely monitored by departmental teams from local, regional, and/or federal governments. Issues in any of these critical regulatory areas can be cause for an inspector to impose a fine or even shut down a facility. The result can be a potential loss of revenue, not to mention the inconvenience and cost of unexpected, mandated repairs.
What Is the “Right” Kitchen Flooring?
Let’s look at the high-level demands concerning commercial kitchen flooring, in terms of agency compliance.
Hygiene. In a facility that handles food in any manner — from large food processing and beverage bottling plants to microbreweries offering tastings, bistros, restaurants, and kitchens in sports arenas — ensuring the utmost sanitary conditions is at the top of the list. Nothing is more important than having an environment that minimizes the potential growth and exposure of food-borne bacteria and pathogens to both to employees and customers.
The following are some key elements covered in USDA and various sub-agency construction guidelines:
Virtually seamless installation: The majority of floor surfaces that can be used on a concrete substrate — whether tile or sheet material — must be made to adhere to the concrete slab using a special adhesive. Today’s adhesives are typically water-based and can break down in environments subjected to ongoing moisture, hot spills, and the like. As the adhesive begins to fail, it can enable dark, moist pockets to develop between the substrate and the floor covering — near perfect conditions for pathogen growth.
Additionally, the exposed grout installed between tiles is notoriously difficult to keep clean over time. It can begin to pull away from the tile, become porous, or crack, providing tiny crevices and cavities where food particles can accumulate and bacteria can grow over time. Likewise, the heat sealing process used to join together different pieces of sheet or plank flooring creates points of weakness throughout the floor. These are known to frequently crack under strenuous use, again presenting facility hygiene risks.
On the other hand, fluid-applied resin flooring, such as epoxies, urethanes and urethane mortars, are applied in smooth layers and adhere directly to the concrete substrate itself. This helps create an exceptionally strong bond, provides an impermeable surface, and typically eliminates the risk of the unsanitary gaps and crevices.
Floor-to-wall integrated cove bases. This upward curvature serves two purposes: One, it eliminates the 90° angle, where inevitably, a slight gap or corner would occur, providing a home for bacteria to flourish. Two, it makes the floor much easier to clean by eliminating hard to reach corners and gaps.
Proper floor slope toward drain. This also helps in various ways. A properly sloped floor surface helps move standing water and other liquids directly to the drain, which can assist floors in drying faster and help prevent slip-and-fall incidents. Correct slope also eliminates puddling, where bacteria can proliferate very quickly.
Occupant Safety. Kitchen flooring is subjected not only to water, but to many other types of products and particles, such as oils, grease, and fine dust from flour, salt, and sugar, all of which can be hazardous in terms of employee foot traffic. Textured flooring can play a key role in helping to minimize slip-and-fall accidents. In contrast to nearly every other type of flooring, textures in resinous floor coatings are customizable to accommodate the needs of the environment.
Durability. A number of different factors can affect the durability of commercial kitchen flooring. Think about these properties when selecting new surfacing:
- Abrasion resistance when exposed to heavy foot traffic and cart traffic.
- Impact resistance and compressive strength, especially if heavy loads of products will be brought into the kitchen directly.
- Thermal shock resistance is especially important in areas where extreme temperature changes occur. One example would be hot ovens and refrigerated areas, which are obviously common in commercial kitchens. Other sources of thermal shock would be spillage of boiling liquids or high-pressure steam cleaning. The problem that arises is that practically any material — including floor coatings, as well as the concrete substrate itself — will expand and contract with severe changes in temperature. When the rate of expansion and contraction vary greatly between the coating and the substrate, the result is often delamination, cracking, bubbling, and other forms of deterioration. That’s why there are specific types of coatings created to withstand delamination by maintaining similar properties to that of concrete, thus allowing it to expand and contract along with it.
Epoxies, Urethanes and Urethane Mortars: Options for Commercial Kitchen Flooring
Epoxies, urethanes and urethane mortars are fluid-applied resins that can be installed:
- As smooth, virtually seamless coatings to the floor
- With integrated floor-to-wall cove bases
- With customized, textured sand, multicolored quartz, or decorative flake to maximize safety and minimize slip-and-fall hazards
- As ultra-high performance finishes that expand and contract at rates that mimic the rate at which the concrete slab expands and contracts, offering a very high level of thermal shock resistance
- With chemical and abrasion-resistant topcoats
In many ways, epoxy and urethanes can provide similar benefits, but generally speaking these are used in combination to create a customized resinous floor coating system fit for the facility needs. Products are created with different advantages in mind. For example, some epoxies and urethanes are made to be aliphatic or non-yellowing, while others may be chemical resistant or thermal shock resistant. The good news is that many of these products are offered with low to no VOCs, while meeting LEED certification requirements. However, typically urethanes are of a higher quality than epoxies with higher abrasion resistance and durability.
Epoxies and urethanes are available in a wide variety of colors, including custom colors which can typically be created upon request. Create and enhance the design of your floor while reflecting corporate branding. While a solid gray floor is highly practical and makes it easier to spot spillage, there is a great deal of value in having an attractive floor than can boost employee morale and wow your customers.
Additionally, when it comes to having an attractive floor, the same can be said for both decorative quartz and flake systems. These decorative options not only offer beautiful aesthetics, but also provide additional texture to help create further traction.
Just as you would not move forward without consulting a professional for any other aspect of construction in your facility, speaking with an experienced, reliable resinous flooring installer to discuss the specifics of a commercial kitchen is very important. They will be able to advise you on the best products and systems to meet the facility’s needs.
Youngworth is a senior marketing specialist at Tennant Coatings with more than 10 years’ experience assisting clients across many industries in the selection and installation of optimal concrete flooring for their facilities. Located in Minneapolis, MN, Tennant Coatings has a breadth of flooring experience, knowledge and expertise, which comes from creating high performance concrete floor coatings that, together with Tennant cleaning equipment, create a wide range of solutions.