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The “411” on Cleaning and Sanitizing

Do you ever find yourself wondering…“if one cup of cleaning solution is good….2 cups must be even better” or “I could save time and effort if I combine the three sink method for washing dishes into two steps?” Stop the presses…hold the phone! These are just a few of the misconceptions that can lead to inadequate cleaning, ineffective sanitation, and equipment damage. The following information explains the reasons behind the cleaning and sanitizing recommendations.

Cleaning and Sanitizing: What’s the Difference?
There are two steps to having a clean and sanitary kitchen. The first step is “cleaning” and the second step “sanitizing.” The cleaning process involves washing surfaces with warm, soapy water and rinsing to remove the soap and remaining food residue, grease, and dirt. Cleaning removes what you can see. Sanitizing takes place after cleaning and removes or kills the organisms you cannot see. Although the two are linked, they are separate processes. Surfaces must be cleaned for sanitizing to be effective.

Most surfaces that have been soiled or contaminated may be cleaned with the proper use of cleaning agents. Detergents are cleaning agents that have the ability to remove contamination and soil. They aren’t designed to kill bacteria, but instead act as a surfactant to lift dirt and germs off a surface so that they can be rinsed away. When detergent is combined with action, a cleaner surface is produced.

The last step in the cleaning process is sanitation. In order to sanitize a surface effectively, it must be clean. If a sanitizer is applied to a soiled surface, it will not be able to penetrate the soil and inactivate the microorganisms. The soil renders the sanitizer ineffective. Therefore, it is imperative that a surface be clean before sanitizer is applied.

Chemical sanitizing generally involves either immersing the object in a sanitizing solution for a specific amount of time or spraying/wiping the object with the solution and allowing it to air-dry. Chemical sanitizers differ in their effectiveness on certain organisms and in the concentration, temperature, and contact time required to kill bacteria. Common chemical sanitizers include chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium compounds or “quats.” Two most common chemical sanitizers seen in food service are chlorine and “quats.”

Chlorine is most commonly used and is the cheapest. It is effective in hard water, but is inactivated by hot water above 120°F. Chlorine bleach solutions must be tested regularly and changed as necessary to ensure that the solution is working to sanitize. Using too much chlorine in a solution can pit stainless steel and aluminum surfaces and irritate skin, while using too little will not sanitize the surface.

Quaternary Ammonium or Quats are generally odorless, colorless, non-irritating, and deodorizing. They also have some detergent action and they are good disinfectants. This sanitizer is not as quickly inactivated by food particles as chlorine solution and is non-corrosive to metal surfaces. However, some quaternary ammonium compounds are inactivated in the presence of some soaps or soap residues. Other disadvantages are, it leaves a film and does not kill certain types of microorganisms, the antibacterial activity is reduced in the presence of organic matter (dust/skin) and hard water can also reduce its effectiveness. Because of these considerations, careful product selection is important. The exposure time necessary for surface and immersion will vary; follow manufacturer’s instructions.

* For all sanitizers, follow manufacturer’s label directions for mixing the solution and allowing for the required surface contact time. The process used in manual dishwashing involves the following steps:

  1. Rinse, scrape, or soak all items before washing.
  2. Wash items in the first sink with the detergent solution. Water temperature should be at least 110°F. Use a brush, cloth, or scrubber to loosen soil. Replace detergent solution when suds are gone or water is dirty.
  3. Immerse or spray-rinse items in second sink. Water temperature should be at least 110°F. Remove all traces of food and detergent. If using immersion, replace water when it becomes cloudy, dirty, or suds appear.
  4. Immerse items in third sink filled with hot water or a chemical-sanitizing solution. If hot water immersion is used, the water temperature must be at least 171°F. Items must be immersed for 30 seconds. If chemical sanitizing is used, the sanitizer must be mixed at the proper concentration. (Check at regular intervals with a test kit). If using bleach, use 1 Tablespoon bleach per gallon of cool water and allow items to be immersed for 1 minute. Water must be correct temperature for the sanitizer used. Air-dry all items on a drain board. Do not use towels to dry items.

Helpful Hints

  • More is NOT better. Sanitizing solutions must be correctly prepared to be effective. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when preparing sanitizing solutions, and check the concentration of the sanitizer using a test kit. Using too high a concentration can result in off-flavors or odors in foods, can corrode equipment, waste money, and violate local health department rules.
  • Don’t cross contaminate with cleaning cloths. Use separate cloths for cleaning and sanitizing. Store cloths in sanitizing solution between uses. Prepare fresh sanitizing solution regularly.
  • Closely follow the temperature recommendations for sanitizing agents. Very hot water, above 120°F, may prevent chlorine bleach fromsanitizing.
  • When detergents, used for cleaning dishes, mixes with chlorine bleach in the sanitizing rinse, it disables the chlorine part of the bleach and renders it ineffective as a sanitizer.
  • If soapsuds disappear in the wash water or appear in the rinse water, the water temperature cools, orthe water becomes dirty or cloudy, drain and refill with clean water.
  • Containers should be labeled to identify contents and directions for use.
  • Air-dry all items on a drain board. Wiping or drying the equipment with towels can recontami-nate equipment and can remove the sanitizing solution from the surfaces before it has finished working. Cloth towels are notorious at harboring germs and transferring them from one surface to another.
  • Not all bleaches are the same. Bleaches registeredwith the EPA will have the EPA symbol on the bottle label. The bleach must contain 5.25% or 6% sodium hypochlorite in order to be an effective sanitizer. DO NOT use scented bleach.

The director and employees share responsibilities for knowing and using standard procedures for a clean and sanitary food service. Food safety is everyone’s business. To have a safe environment every person in food service must be properly trained and committed to high standards of cleaning and sanitation.

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