If it appears that a sanitizer is not working properly, it’s likely that the cleaning and rinsing process preceding the sanitation step was inadequate. Cleaning chemicals that are not rinsed off of a surface can inactivate some commonly used sanitizers. An employee who has not been properly trained may be tempted to use “extra” sanitizer to ensure bacteria are removed. Unfortunately, the use of extra sanitizer is wasteful, can be hazardous to use, damaging to waste or water systems, and can be a misuse of the sanitizer—which violates federal law. Sufficient cleaning combined with the recommended concentration of sanitizer will be effective in sanitizing the facility.
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It’s also important to note that the frequency of surface sanitizing varies. According to the FDA’s Food Code, non-refrigerated surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized at least every four hours. More frequent cleaning and sanitizing may be needed depending on what food is being processed and if there are changeovers from one food to another. A food contact surface should be exposed to the sanitizer for at least 60 seconds (or whatever time is specified on the EPA-approved label) before being allowed to drain completely and air dry. Much of the equipment used during food processing and preparation is complex and may need to be disassembled for cleaning. Such equipment should be disassembled according to the manufacturer’s instructions then cleaned, rinsed, and sanitized. After the pieces have been allowed to air dry, equipment should be reassembled and re-sanitized after assembly. The equipment should completely air-dry before it is used to process food again.
Contaminated food can result in costly recalls, negative publicity, and lost business. It’s sometimes impossible for a business to fully recover from these consequences. Thus, it’s important for every food facility to maintain the highest cleaning and sanitation standards in order to preserve brand reputation. Understanding the difference between sanitizing and disinfecting, and best practices for selecting and using sanitizers, protects employees, customers, and brand reputation by reducing the risk of potentially deadly outbreaks.
Dr. Grinstead is a Senior Technology Fellow with Sealed Air’s Diversey Care division. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.