Sanitation Safety Standards


Properly cleaning and sanitizing foodservice operations should be a top priority for operators. Here is a look at the most common foodservices cleaning agents and sanitizers along with important guidelines you can use to help ensure that you and your staff use these chemicals safely and effectively.

Cleaning Agents

Cleaning agents are divided into four categories: detergents, solvent cleaners, abrasive cleansers and acid cleaners. Some categories may overlap. For example, some abrasive cleansers and acid cleaners contain detergents and some detergents contain solvents.


All detergents contain surfactants (surface acting agents) that reduce surface tension between the soil and the surface. They are most often used to clean fresh soil from floors, walls, ceilings, prep surfaces and most equipment and utensils. Heavy-duty detergents, which are highly alkaline, are used to remove wax, aged or dried soils and baked-on or burned-on surfaces.


Solvent cleaners

Often called degreasers, solvent cleaners are alkaline detergents that contain grease-dissolving agents. They work in areas where grease has been burned on, such as grill back-splashes, oven doors and range hoods. Solvents are usually only effective used at full strength and so are expensive to use on large areas.


Acid cleaners

These are used to remove mineral deposits that alkaline cleaners cannot remove, such as scale in warewashing machines and steam tables, and rust and tarnish on copper and brass.

Abrasive cleansers

These contain scouring agents, such as silica, to help scrub off hard-to-remove soils. They are used on floors or to remove baked-on or burned-on foods in pots and pans. Abrasives can scratch many smooth surfaces and should be used with caution on plastic and stainless steal.


The three most common types of sanitizers are chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium compounds (quats).

Chlorine, the most commonly used sanitizer, kills a wide range of microorganisms, leaves no film on surfaces and can be used in hard water. However, it is also corrosive to some metals, is adversely affected by temperatures above 115(degrees)F and is less effective against freshly soiled surfaces.

Iodine has the advantage of being effective at low concentrations and is not as quickly inactivated as chlorine, but it is overall less useful than chlorine, is more expensive, may stain surfaces and becomes corrosive to some metals above 120(degrees)F.

Quats are noncorrosive, nonirritating to skin, work in most temperature ranges and remain active for a short period of time, but do leave a film on surfaces. They also don't kill some kinds of microorganisms and are less effective in hard water.

Knowing how to use sanitizers and what factors influence the use of these chemicals is crucial. Contact time, selectivity, temperature and concentration all contribute to how they will best work in a restaurant.

The amount of time a sanitizing solution stays in contact directly affects its ability to kill microorganisms. Therefore, these solutions should be applied and allowed to air dry and should never wiped off the equipment they are meant to sanitize. Check with local regulatory agencies for exact requirements in your jurisdiction.

Selectivity refers to the kind of microorganisms you are targeting. Some solutions are more effective against killing certain bacteria.

Sanitizers are also affected by temperature. Most work best at temperatures between 75[degrees]F to 120[degrees]F Don't be tempted to use these solutions at lower temperature ranges to make them last longer, as they will not be as effective. Also, don't fall into the "hotter is better" trap: chemicals used in temperatures outside the suggested range can corrode metals or evaporate.

It is also critical that chemicals be mixed and used at the recommended concentration levels for maximum efficiency. Those mixed below recommended guidelines may fail to sanitize objects. Higher than recommended concentrations can be unsafe and may leave an odor or bad taste on objects and may corrode metals.

Concentrations of sanitizing solutions must be checked frequently since sanitizers become depleted as they kill microorganisms. They can also become bound up in food particles or in detergents left on surfaces. Test kits specific to each type of sanitizer are available from manufacturers or foodservice suppliers.

Finally, it is important to change sanitizing solutions when they are depleted or when the water is visibly dirty.

Cleaning Basics

Before deciding which cleaning agents or chemical compounds will remove the food, soil, stains, minerals or other deposits from surfaces and equipment, keep in mind the factors that affect the basic cleaning process.

For example, baked on or dried stains will be more difficult to remove than other stains. Also, the degree of water hardness will affect the type of detergent necessary.

Remember, the more time a surface is exposed to a detergent, the easier it is to remove stains.


Employee Training

It is critical that all employees be properly trained in handling different cleaning agents to avoid misuse. Employees should be instructed to never substitute one type of detergent for another unless clearly stated on the label that substitution is allowed. They should also never make up their own cleaning agents by combining compounds. (For example, combining ammonia and chlorine bleach produces chlorine gas that can be fatal.)

Jorge Hernandez is the senior director science and regulatory relations for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.


Chemicals keep foodservice operations clean, sanitary and pest-free, but they can be hazardous to employees if used improperly. It's important to know how to store and work with these chemicals. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to comply with Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) they have developed. This standard, also known as Right-to-Know or HAZCOM, says that employers must inform employees what chemical hazards they may be exposed to in their establishment, and must train employees on how to safely use these chemicals.

The program must include:

* An inventory of the hazardous chemicals used at the establishment, including any chemicals that are hazardous to humans, those that may cause acute or chronic health programs, or are explosive, flammable or unstable. Operators must keep an inventory of hazardous chemicals and update the list when chemicals are added or no longer used.

* Chemical labeling procedures. OSHA requires chemical manufacturers to clearly label the outside of containers with the chemical name, manufacturer's name, address and phone number and possible hazard. Be sure to only accept containers with proper labels and make sure they remain attached to the container and are readable. It the contents of the container are transferred to another container, the label must include all of the aforementioned information.

* These sheets should be kept in a binder and stored in an area accessible to all employees.

* Employee Training. Employers are required by OSHA to train every employee that may be exposed to hazardous chemicals in proper use and storage. This training should take place annually and for all new employees, or when employees are assigned to a new area where they may require different chemicals.

* A written plan addressing hazard communication standards. Employers must develop a written plan that describes how they will meet the HAZCOM standards in their establishments. This plan should include: the list of hazardous chemicals stored on the premises and their amounts; purchasing specifications for chemicals; procedures for receiving and storing chemicals; labeling requirements in the establishment, procedures for accessing MSDS; list of personal protection equipment, employee training procedures, reporting and record-keeping procedures; and detailed information for alerting employees of the hazards of non-routine tasks.

Thomes Buller

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