There are a lot of considerations when selecting a new or replacement floor finish for a school kitchen. Budget will always be the overriding concern - how to get the best value for the money available. Longevity and durability will also be high in the list of priorities, and once the budget has been spent you don't want to have to find money for maintenance, refreshing or replacing in the medium term.
Slip-resistance - Health and safety in all environments is a high priority. In a school kitchen hazards are increased and risks heightened. Spills of food and drink, standing water or damp surfaces from cleaning and more people working in a relatively confined space, all raise the likelihood of an accident. Furthermore, there are hot surfaces, hot liquids, sharp knives, scissors etc. that could increase the severity of an accident. So it is important that the slip resistance of the floor is higher than other areas, to reduce the risk of slipping even if the floor is wet or food has been dropped.
Hygiene & ease of cleaning - The floor and wall surfaces must be hygienic and should not harbour pathogens or support the growth of microbes. The easiest surfaces to clean are perfectly smooth and non-absorbent. While the non-absorbent box can be checked, a perfectly smooth finish is also extremely slippery. The most slip-resistant surfaces are heavily profiled and rough, this makes them difficult to clean, so there is a compromise to be found between slip-resistance and ease of cleaning.
Heat resistance & cleaning regimes - Obviously a kitchen floor will have hot liquids and foods dropped on it and the floor finish will need to withstand this. It is also worth thinking about how the floor will be cleaned. If the surface will be mopped with boiling water or steam-cleaned as part of an annual deep clean, it is important to check that the floor finish can tolerate high temperatures. Similarly, check that the floor finishes can withstand whatever cleaning chemicals might be used, e.g. bleach, detergents, degreasers, disinfectants, etc.
Impact resistance - Occasionally heavy items get dropped on the floor. Because items are so much bigger in an ‘industrial-scale’ school kitchen by comparison to a domestic kitchen, the size of sauce pans for example, they will have a bigger impact when they hit the floor and it is important that the floor finish can withstand this.
Abrasion resistance - Although school kitchen floors will receive less abrasion than an industrial kitchen or food processing facility, there are no forklift trucks or pallets being dragged, abrasion resistance can still be a consideration. Vinyl wheeled trolleys can damage floors, especially if they track the same route day after day. Choosing a highly abrasion resistant hard-wearing floor can mean it withstands damage for many many years.
Traditionally school kitchen floors in the UK have been laid with terracotta quarry tiles, often with raised patterns for increased grip and reduced chance of staff slipping. These tiles have many excellent qualities, they are durable, hard wearing and last for a long time. However, over time tiles get broken or cracked due to impacts or come loose, and are taken out leaving a gap until they are replaced - creating a potential trip hazard and difficult to clean recesses that harbour dirt then microbial growth. The main drawback to tiled floors is the grout between the tiles which is often absorbent, making it extremely difficult to clean thoroughly and harbours dirt leading to microbial growth. Even if a non-absorbent modern grout is used, the grout can come loose or get chipped, creating crevasses that are difficult to clean. This is a similar problem for white ceramic wall tiles used a splash-backs, where a solid material without grout joints is easier to clean - such as stainless steel.
In recent times, heavy duty vinyl floors with prominent slip-resistant aggregate incorporated has become the norm. They are highly cost effective in the short-term, can be laid quickly and are relatively easy to clean. The vinyl sheets or tiles are durable, long lasting and abrasion resistant. Their main points of weakness are their welded joints and perimeters. The joints are the first point of failure, if they peel away then food and liquids can be washed into the gap and under the sheeting. If this happens, it is difficult to clean and over time it can become a breeding ground for microbes. Similarly, if the vinyl is retro-fitted around kitchen equipment that is bolted to the floor - it is difficult to seal the vinyl around these points. If the vinyl is not sealed properly again dirt can be washed under the sheet, which supports fungal and bacterial growth over time.
Unlike tiles and vinyl, resin floors can be laid as a completely seamless floor finish without joints. There are many different grades of resin floors from basic paints through to 9mm thick screeds. There are many benefits of choosing a resin floor, but it is important to get the right specification for your needs. In general, the thicker the resin floor, the more durable but also the more expensive. Resin flooring systems are installed across the food processing industry in abattoirs, dairies, breweries, biscuit factories, tinned food manufacture, commercial and industrial kitchens to name just a few. They do not support microbial growth and are seamless, impervious and non-porous. Modern resins are solvent free and non-tainting, avoiding disruption during the application process.
It is important to note that most resin systems are only tolerant of temperature up to 60°C for prolonged exposure e.g. cleaning. Only thick screed systems such as 9mm Resuthane TG69, Resucrete, Pumadur RT and Pumadur HF can be steam cleaned and are tolerant of temperatures up to 120°C. Colours for Resuthane & Resucrete are on the Resuthane Colour Chart and for Pumadur are on the Pumadur Colour Chart. Systems like these have been installed in heavy duty food manufacturing units for decades and are still performing their role.
Resin screeds can be intergated seamlessly in to resin coving and taken up to top of skirting height or even further up the wall if desired.
Thinner resin screeds have excellent durability, abrasion resistance and longevity. They are generally laid at 2-6mm depending upon the product selected, but as previously mentioned to not have the temperature resistance to be steam cleaned. Products like Pumadur SL and Resuthane SL are flow applied self-smoothing polyurethane resins that have a smooth matt finish with good slip resistance.