What’s the Difference Between Cleaning and Sanitizing?

Posted On: April 23, 2019
cleaning and sanitizing

As you know, it's all about cleanliness in the food service industry. Or is it? Isn’t a clean utensil the same as a sanitized utensil? They’re both germ-free, right? To understand the difference between cleaning and sanitizing—and why it’s important to both clean and sanitize—let’s start with food-contact surfaces. Anything that touches food is a food-contact surface: knives, pots, counters, containers, dishes, and even your hands. So, when should you clean and sanitize food surfaces? Here are some general guidelines:

  • After you use the surface or tool
  • Before you start working with another type of food
  • Any time you are away and can’t ensure items haven’t been contaminated
  • Periodically throughout the day if you are continually using items

Now, let’s dive in to the differences between cleaning and sanitizing and how you can properly use a three-compartment sink.

Cleaning vs. Sanitizing

A healthier place is what cleaning and sanitizing is all about. The reason we strive to make all food-contact surfaces free of “gunk” and germs (sometimes called pathogens or microorganisms) is so that no one—kitchen staff, servers, or customers—gets sick.

Cleaning Removes Food Particles

Cleaning is the removal of food particles, grease, dirt, chemical residues, allergens, and any other residue that doesn’t belong on the food-contact surface. We most often remove these using hot water, scrubbers, and some kind of detergent or soap to loosen and dissolve the particles. We then rinse the surface in clean water to make sure everything is washed off. According to Food Safety Magazine, here are some common cleaners you’ll likely spot in your restaurant:

  • Detergents: these have surfactants that reduce surface tension between soil and the surface so that the detergent can penetrate and lift soil from the surface.
  • Solvent cleaners: these contain a grease-dissolving agent that you can use in areas with burned-on grease.
  • Acid cleaners: these are used on mineral deposits that alkaline detergents cannot remove.
  • Abrasive: these are used to remove heavy accumulations of soil , typically in small areas. The abrasive action is provided by small mineral or metal particles, such as fine steel wool, copper or even nylon.

Sanitizing Reduces Harmful Germs

Sanitizing is the way we reduce the number of harmful germs and contaminants down to a safe, acceptable level. The sanitizer is not designed to breakdown and remove residue. That’s why we always sanitize after we clean. Food Safety Magazine also shared the two types of sanitizers typically found in restaurants:

  • Heat. Hot water is used in both dishwashing machines and three-compartment sinks. But for it to be effective, you must keep the water at certain temperatures.
  • Chemicals. Certain chemicals approved as sanitizers for food-contact surfaces in foodservice establishments include chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium.

It surprises many people to learn that sanitizing does not kill all the germs. But proper sanitizing does kill enough so that what remains is at a safe level. Killing all the germs is called sterilizing which is difficult to do in most food-service situations.

Steps for Cleaning and Sanitizing

Here are the four basic steps for cleaning and sanitizing that everyone needs to follow:

  1. Clean the surface to remove particles
  2. Rinse the surface to ensure everything is gone
  3. Sanitize the surface
  4. Allow the surface to air-dry

Using a Three-Compartment Sink

For example, he three-compartment sink that you use every day is designed for cleaning and sanitizing in one simple process.

  1. After scraping off all loose food, place the dirty item into the first sink and give it a good scrubbing with hot, soapy water.
  2. In the middle sink, thoroughly rinse the item with hot, clean water to remove any left-over residue.
  3. In the third sink, dunk the item in the sanitizer solution and then let it air dry on a clean surface, drainboard, or towel.

It's very important that you follow all three steps in order. If this is not the procedure you are using to clean and sanitize, please ask your supervisor to explain why.

Get Your Food Safety Manager Training

Now that you know the difference between cleaning and sanitizing, look for ways to make your workplace safer by helping others understand why it’s so important to both clean and sanitize. And take your education to the next level with Food Safety Manager Training from Learn2Serve.

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