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March Cartoon: How Sanitizing Protects Your Food Safety

Food handler dreams of a license to kill germs

Cleaning and sanitizing are necessary steps in ensuring food is safe for consumers. If equipment, utensils, and dishes aren’t cleaned or sanitized correctly, pathogens can spread to everything they touch. Protect both your customers and your job by learning how to properly clean and sanitize.

Why clean and sanitize?

Pathogens can be found on almost every surface—counters, cutting boards, knives, pots and pans, and even your hands! Without proper safety practices like cleaning and sanitizing, handwashing, and wearing gloves, these pathogens can spread and grow, potentially causing foodborne illness. Cross-contamination can also contribute to the spreading of pathogens.

Cleaning vs sanitizing

First, let’s talk about the difference between cleaning and sanitizing. Cleaning is the removal of grime and dirt from utensils, equipment, and other food-contact surfaces. Sanitizing involves using a sanitizing solution to kill remaining bacteria.

Always clean and sanitize your equipment and food-contact surface in the following situations:

  • After working with raw meat
  • If you are changing what food is being prepared
  • After four hours of constant use
  • After taking a break

Acceptable sanitizers for food-contact surfaces

Pathogens can be killed using heat, radiation, or chemicals. In the food industry, the most popular way to sanitize is with chemical sanitizers. The FDA Food Code identifies a few chemical sanitizers that are approved for use on food-contact surfaces, including chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium.

To get the most out of your sanitizers, keep three factors in mind: temperature, concentration, and time.

1. Use sanitizer at the right temperature

If a sanitizer is not prepared and used with water of the correct temperature, the effectiveness of the sanitizer may be decreased. The ideal temperature depends on your type of sanitizer.

Chlorine Sanitizing Solution Iodine Sanitizing Solution Quaternary Ammonium Compound Solution
  • If the concentration is between 25 and 49 milligrams per liter (mg/L), prepare with water measuring 120°F
  • If the concentration is between 50 and 99 mg/L, prepare with water measuring 100°F
  • If the concentration is 100 mg/L, prepare with water measuring 55°F
Prepare with water measuring 68°F Prepare with water measuring 75°F

Source: 2017 FDA Food Code

2. Mix sanitizer at the correct concentration

If the concentration of the sanitizer is incorrect, it could be ineffective or even dangerous to use. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when preparing your sanitizing solution.

3. Give the sanitizer time

For a sanitizer to be effective, it must be in contact with the item you are cleaning for the recommended amount of time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your sanitizer.

How to test sanitizer concentration

For a sanitizer, concentration is everything. If the concentration is too high, you could risk dangerous levels of chemicals left on food-contact surfaces, potentially causing chemical contamination.

Ensure your sanitizer has been mixed properly by using sanitizer test strips to check its concentration.

Storing chemicals and sanitizers properly

Labeling chemicals and sanitizers correctly is an important step in keeping food-contact surfaces safe. If a chemical is labeled incorrectly, or you are not sure what chemical it is, dispose of it.

Always store chemicals away from food and food-contact surfaces. Your chemical storage area should be separate from the food storage area to avoid contamination. If chemicals are stored close to food preparation areas, it is very easy for them to be spilled into food.

Finally, avoid using chemicals around where food is being prepared. Droplets of chemicals may become airborne and taint nearby food.

Day-to-day uses of sanitizer

You should use sanitizer whenever you’re washing dishes or cleaning equipment.

Related article: Maintaining a Cleaning Schedule

Washing dishes in a three-compartment sink

Three-compartment sinks make cleaning and sanitizing dishes easy and efficient. Here are the five steps for cleaning and sanitizing using a three-compartment sink:

  1. Scrape away leftover food on the dishes and utensils.
  2. Clean the dishes and utensils in the first sink with soap and warm water.
  3. Rinse the dishes and utensils in the second sink with clear, clean water.
  4. Sanitize the dishes and utensils in a chemical solution or very hot water (at least 171°F) in the third sink.
  5. Allow the dishes and utensils to air-dry.

Cleaning equipment in place

You should clean your equipment in three instances: before using it, throughout the day as needed to prevent recontamination, and at least every 24 hours. Follow the proper process for cleaning in place.

For more information on how cleaning and sanitizing help keep you and your customers safe, get your food handlers card through our online training course.

— Juli Shelley

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