Depending on the size and type of food service location or commercial kitchen, the number of cleaning solutions used to maintain the facility can be considerable. For instance, degreasers are invariably used to clean floors, walls, metalwork if there is a heavy buildup, and other areas. All-purpose cleaners are used just about anywhere and everywhere. Solutions to clean and polish stainless steel are always needed.
Further, many food service locations have very specific needs. These include selecting cleaning-related products to keep drains running smoothly, spot removers to clean carpets, and if they fully clean their own carpet, cleaning solutions made just for this purpose.
But there are two more cleaning solutions that are used in virtually every food service location. They are not designed to make surfaces look cleaner or shiner. They are designed to help make surfaces healthier, more hygienically clean, by eliminating or minimizing the number of pathogens—germs, bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants—on a surface that could possibly cause illness.
These two ubiquitous products are sanitizers and disinfectants. In many ways, we can view them as we did penicillin and other antibiotics when they were first introduced. Discovered in 1928, penicillin was labeled as one of the first “miracle drugs” ever created. And in some ways, sanitizers and disinfectants are “miracle” cleaning solutions because of their ability to attack pathogens. However, just like penicillin, it was learned over time that if these cleaning products are not used properly and safely, their benefits can be cut short—something we cannot allow to happen in any facility, and certainly not in a food service location.
Although some countries may define sanitizers and disinfectants differently, the following are the two most commonly accepted views of sanitizers and disinfectants in Canada and the U.S.
Sanitizer. When we sanitize a surface, we are taking steps to reduce the number of pathogens on that surface to what is considered a safe level for public health. In most types of cleaning situations, including in food service locations, a sanitizer may be all that is needed. This is good to know, since sanitizers may be less costly and easier to use than disinfectants. In addition, some are certified Green—meaning the product is independently evaluated to ensure it meets specific standards and that, when used properly, the product has a reduced impact on the health of the user and the environment.
Disinfectant. When disinfectants are used, hygienic cleaning is taken to a much higher level. While sanitizers are designed to reduce the number of pathogens on a surface to safe levels, disinfectants are designed to kill pathogens on a surface based on the product’s “kill claims” and how it is used as directed per the manufacturer’s instructions. When selected and used properly, disinfectants are able to kill most germs, bacteria, and other pathogens on a surface that could cause or spread disease.
Disinfectant Categories and Types
In the U.S., disinfectants are not certified Green. EPA, which regulates disinfectants, categorizes them as pesticides. What EPA is most concerned about is if the product works effectively and safely per the manufacturer’s instructions, with ingredients designed to kill pathogens.
For food service purposes, there are three categories or classifications of disinfectants.
- General disinfectant. This type of disinfectant is effective against a variety of different types of bacteria, germs, and other pathogens. In most cases for the food service industry, the goal is to clean and disinfect, not attack a specific pathogen. Because of this, a general disinfectant should usually suffice.
- Limited disinfectant. A limited disinfectant is effective against only a specific group of microorganisms. If, for instance, there are concerns about norovirus pathogens in a commercial kitchen, food service administrators should select a disinfectant specifically designed to kill norovirus microorganisms.
- Hospital-grade disinfectant. These disinfectants have proven effective at eliminating many types of nosocomial (healthcare-acquired) bacterial pathogens. As the name implies, they are generally for use in hospitals, clinics, dental offices, or other healthcare-related facilities.
When selecting a disinfectant, the product’s label and marketing material should indicate what type of disinfectant it is and how or where it should be used. It will also indicate the product’s kill claims, which identify the specific types of pathogens—Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, etc.—that the disinfectant is designed to kill.
How to Properly Use Sanitizers and Disinfectants
For a sanitizer or disinfectant to be effective in a commercial kitchen, the surface must be clean. This means it’s a two-step process: clean first, then sanitize or disinfect.