Ross Skadsberg

In any foodservice operation, washing dishes is a necessary routine which does not get a lot of attention. Yet guests — in long-term care communities as in restaurants— consistently rate cleanliness of tableware as highly as they rank food quality and taste. In an Ecolab-commissioned survey of 400 Americans choosing a long term care community for themselves or for loved ones, cleanliness was the second most frequently mentioned topic by residents and families when asked what they appreciate about their community. It ranked just behind a caring, friendly staff and even higher than quality and variety of food.  

Having a well-trained dishwasher, a properly balanced dishmachine, and a good cleaning program ensures you meet your residents’, families’ and future residents’ expectations for a clean and safe environment.

Today’s residents expect a restaurant-quality dining experience. Clean tableware and sparkling glasses ensure your residents have the dining experience they expect. Achieving this result involves more than just running everything through a dishwasher.


Sorting the different ware types allows for an efficient warewash operation and helps ensure all your wares get clean. Proper sorting includes the following: 

  1. Putting a tub on the dishtable to presoak silverware,
  2. Setting up a decoy system – which is laying out different plates and bowls on the dishtable so the dirty ware can be stacked after being bussed, and;
  3. Having properly sized glass racks available for each glass or cup in service.

Each of these steps will allow the dishwasher to be more efficient, prevent ware breakage and most importantly – get the ware clean.

Scraping & emptying

Any food debris should be removed by hand scraping the food waste into a trashcan. Cups and glasses should be emptied and placed in the proper glass rack.


Presoaking helps remove difficult food soils such as protein and starch films that can build up on utensils over time – causing them to look dull and dirty. Soaking these items for 15-30 minutes in a product designed to presoak before running them through the dishwasher assures they get properly cleaned. It also saves time, money and labor by eliminating rewash of items that do not get clean the first time. A good presoak should be alkaline based and contain enzymes designed to breakdown starch and protein films.


Racks are specially designed for the different types of ware.  They are also designed to optimize cleaning action in the dishmachine. Be sure to use the proper design to allow for the most efficient loading of each ware type and prevent breakage.


After loading the racks, a pre-spray hose should be used to spray off any loose food debris prior to loading the rack into the dishmachine. 


Now you’re ready to run items through a dishwasher. A commercial dishwasher needs regular maintenance and preventative service to optimize efficiency and results. A well-balanced machine reaches the proper temperatures in the wash and rinse cycle, has good mechanical action from the wash and rinse arms and has the cleaning products at the right concentrations.  

Be sure to also use a rinse additive so that glassware comes out spotless and sparkling. When the above steps have been taken, washing is both more efficient and more effective at getting dishes clean. Properly cleaned dishes are not only important for guest satisfaction – they are also necessary to get the dishes sanitized.

Drying and protecting

Dishes should be air-dried. Make sure any excess water can drain and the dishes are dry prior to stacking them. Be sure to store items in appropriate racks to protect against breakage or contamination until they are used.

Be vigilant

Train your staff to carefully examine all tableware items before setting a table or serving food, being careful not to touch the inside of glasses or the eating ends of flatware. You don’t want your guests discovering food debris or fingerprints, or seeing items being mishandled.

Almost all of those surveyed about their long-term care preferences said that they see “cleanliness” as an indication of the overall level of caring and professionalism throughout your community. You want to be sure that their first impression is a positive one…because it’s about much more than just the tableware.

Ross Skadsberg, director of Long Term Care Marketing for Ecolab’s Institutional business, is responsible for understanding the customer and market, developing products and program innovation, and positioning Ecolab as a business partner and thought leader with customers in this industry. He can be reached at [email protected].