Food Safety: Your Essential Guide to Cleaning, Sanitation & Disinfection

Published on
February 19, 2024 at 10:33:04 AM PST February 19, 2024 at 10:33:04 AM PSTth, February 19, 2024 at 10:33:04 AM PST

Prevent Foodborne Illness - Cleaning, Sanitizing, Disinfecting:

Just because surfaces appear spotless doesn't mean they're truly safe. Invisible enemies like E.coli and Salmonella can lurk, posing a serious threat to your customers and business.


Soap and detergents alone can't fully eliminate these harmful bacteria. That's where proper sanitation and disinfection come in. By following these steps, you can ensure your food facility is not just clean, but truly sanitary and safe.


The difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.

Cleaning removes dirt and debris from surfaces. It doesn’t kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection. Always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after cleaning.


Sanitizing is performed after cleaning. It reduces the number of germs and bacteria on surfaces to a safe level.


Disinfecting destroys or inactivates bacteria and viruses that are identified on a chemical product label on hard non-porous surfaces. It must be performed after cleaning. Disinfecting is one of the most reliable ways to help lower the risk of spreading germs from surfaces by touch.

The key takeaway is that cleaning and sanitizing/disinfecting are a team effort. Disinfectants do not clean dirty surfaces; they kill the germs on the surface after cleaning. Choose an EPA-registered disinfectant suitable for the specific surface and bacteria/viruses you're targeting. Be sure to follow the label instructions carefully. Pay attention to contact time, dilution ratios, and safety precautions.


When using chemical disinfectants, the CDC reccomends following these important safety guidelines:

  • Increase air circulation in the area.
  • Wear the recommended protective equipment (for example, gloves or goggles) to protect your skin and eyes from potential splashes.
  • Apply the disinfectant to the surface and leave on the surface long enough to kill the germs. The surface should stay wet during the entire contact time to make sure germs are killed.
  • Clearly label all cleaning or disinfection solutions and ensure safe use and proper storage of products.
  • Follow the instructions for dilution ratios. Note: Disinfectants activated or diluted with water may have a shorter shelf life.
  • Do not mix products or chemicals with each other as this could be hazardous and change the chemical properties.
  • After disinfecting, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.


Let’s dive into the steps for a fully clean and sanitized facility.

1. Remove Dirt and Debris. Using a lint free cloth or wiper, remove all visible dirt, food particles, and grease from surfaces. For stubborn areas, use a scraper or brush to help get hard to remove grime.

2. Rinse Surfaces and Equipment. Rinse all residue from equipment. If working with dry materials, thoroughly wipe down the equipment using pads, brushes or dry lint-free wipers with a cleaning solution that is suitable to use on food contact surfaces. Alcohol-based wipes and other solvents that dry quickly are also options as a rinse for dry areas.

3. Scrub. Use a detergent along with the correct cleaning tools to scrub surfaces safely and easily. Be sure to have to right cleaning chemicals and dilution when working in environments that have oil, fats, or protein residue. Equipment should be disassembled, and all removable parts should be thoroughly cleaned.

4. Rinse. After scrubbing be sure to do a though rinse with warm water to remove any residue leftover from the detergent. It’s important to note that sanitizer could be neutralized by any remaining detergent on the equipment surface. CIP (clean in place) equipment will need to have written instructions on how to clean and sanitize inaccessible areas.

5. Sanitize and disinfect. Now that everything is scrubbed and rinsed, it’s time to apply a sanitizer or disinfectant suitable to use for food and beverage processing or handling environments. Be sure to follow the correct procedures as disinfectants require longer periods of saturation as noted above. Certain environments may need sanitizer or disinfectant to be highly evaporative, quick-drying and require no rinsing. Check the label and any Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). Disinfectants come in several variations, Quat and Quat-free alcohol-based cleaners.

What’s the difference Quat Free vs Quat Based Sanitizer?

Quat free: Ready-to-use, no-rinse, fast acting, food contact and non-food contact surface cleaner and sanitizer. Highly evaporative and ideal for water sensitive equipment and dry environments. Leaves no residue. Good for bakeries, breweries, dairy & organic.


Quat based: Dilutable, no-rinse surface sanitizer for food and non-food contact, non-porous surfaces. Sanitizes pre-cleaned food contact surfaces in 60 seconds and non-food contact surfaces in 30 seconds. Leaves behind a residue that continues to work on germs.


It is important to note that all food and beverage manufacturers must have a SSOP as part of their HACCP program. They must be reviewed periodically and kept in a safe place. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has the authority to request an operation’s SSOP at any time. Any person performing the cleaning and sanitation of a facility should be properly trained and understand the procedures and the why. Training and education are key to having a strong food safety culture.




NSF: White Paper: Seven Steps to a Clean and Sanitized Food Processing Facility