Sanitizer is not magic! by Mark Barnes



Cleaning and sanitizing are two of the most fundamental and important functions in a food service operation. In fact, the CDC tells us that using contaminated equipment is one of the five most significant contributing factors to foodborne illness. Proper cleaning and sanitizing, along with good pest control practices, can significantly reduce this risk. Proper cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces should be done whenever switching tasks, changing products, switching from raw to ready-to-eat food, or whenever a task is interrupted and a work station is unsupervised. If none of those scenarios play out, then cleaning and sanitizing still needs to be done every four hours, at a minimum, during continual usage (every 24 hours in a temperature-controlled environment). But what does it mean to “properly” clean and sanitize? And are we ensuring that our food handlers are completing this procedure properly?
 
Here are the five steps:
 
1. Remove excessive food and dirt from the surface (pre-wash)
2. Wash the surface
3. Rinse the surface
4. Sanitize the surface
5. Allow the surface to air dry
 
In my personal experience, these five steps are not always being completed properly and when they aren’t, the effectiveness of the sanitizer can pay the price. Step 3, rinsing, is one that is commonly skipped. This is a big problem if your wash soap is on the opposite end of the pH spectrum compared to your sanitizer. Allowing the two to mix will result in ineffective sanitizer!
 
And speaking of sanitizer, a lot of our food handlers think of sanitizer as a “cure all,” while it definitely has it's limitations. The most commonly used sanitizers are Quats (quaternary ammonium compounds), which generally do not kill viruses (our most common foodborne illness, Norovirus, is a virus), are often ineffective against many types of gram-negative bacteria as well as spore forming bacteria, and have limited effectiveness against yeasts and mold.
 
The point is we need to get our employees to stop relying on chemical sanitizers. How do we do that? By using more effective cleaning methods. Cleaning is a removal process, whereas sanitizing is an attempt to reduce the number of microorganisms on a clean surface. The better job our employees do washing and effectively rinsing the surface, the less we have to rely on the efficacy of the sanitizer.
 
This blog is not intended to be a substitute for the user's judgement and common sense. Any errors are unintentional.  


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