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Cleaning and Sanitizing

April 15, 2011

Choosing a Sanitizer Shouldn't Tax You

Yes, I didn't spare you from a very corny joke about the return of our favorite deadline, but I may be able to save you from the headache of figuring out the pros and cons of the two most common sanitizers.  Phew!  I know... you've all been tormented by that very question... staying up late, your bloodshot eyes darting from the Chlorox bottle to the jar of little blue Quat tablets.  What to use????  What to use!!!!

Well, here's the the long and the short of it so you can get some sleep.  Short version: you may use any of the three approved food service sanitizers at the proper concentrations as listed in the rule.  That means chlorine at 50-100ppm, Quat at 200ppm or iodine at 12.5-25ppm.  You of course must use your test strips to check the concentration.

The long of it... one of the approved sanitizers may be a better choice depending on what you are doing, what kind of facility/menu you have, and what you hope to accomplish. 

Let's start with the good ole standard... chlorine.  I love it.  I use it.  It makes me smile.  I like how simple and affordable it is for people to use, has a short contact time, doesn't leave a residue at approved concentrations, and I love how effective it is against a variety of pathogens that other sanitizers can't knock out.  For instance, chlorine is effective against more gram-negative bacteria such as E. coli and some Salmonella spp. than Quat, and it is also the only CDC endorsed sanitizer for inactivating Norovirus.  Quat has not been shown to be consistently effective against these pathogens, and some studies have even shown that they are able to grow in Quat hand dip solutions at 200ppm.  Now-- I am not saying that Quat is not a good sanitizer.  It definitely has its perks.  It is less harsh on people's skin, does not corrode equipment with repeated use, and is more stable and effective over a wider range of water chemistry factors and temperatures.  Some studies have even shown that Quat is more effective than chlorine against some gram-positive bacteria such as S. aureus-- kind of the flip-side of chlorine.

So what does all that  mean???  Well, for starters don't use either one as a hand dip or substitute for hand washing.  As you just read, chlorine is not as effective against Staph aureus, a pathogen associated with poor handling, and Quat can't knock out Noro and may allow the growth of other pathogens.  Yes... I am on my hand washing soap box again.  There is no substitute!  The other thing it means is that there is not a one size fits all sanitizer.  Some places may use both sanitizers in their facility, alternating which solution they use day-by-day to get the benefits of both, while others may use bleach at the meat prep station and quat in veggie prep or pastry areas.  The choice is up to you, but you must understand the pros and cons of each chemical as well as how to use them effectively.  Failure to use them as the manufacturer directs and in compliance with the food rules can create serious problems.  For instance, it's important to know that chlorine and Quats don't mix and can pose a health threat to staff, and that using too high of a concentration, or not allowing air dry time can lead to chemical contamination of food or damage to surfaces and equipment.   

Therefore, choose wisely grasshopper, and look for more information on sanitizers in upcoming blog and FoodLine articles.

October 1, 2010

Despite What Your Mother Told You, Don't Spread The Love

Anyone wanna venture a guess at the number one violation found by Missoula City-County Health? 
             *insert Jeopardy music here*
.... for those of you who answered "keeping towels in sanitizer at the correct concentration" you take the cake... served, of course, on a properly sanitized plate. 

Yes, the most frequent violation found by inspectors is either improper sanitizer concentration or not keeping towels in sanitizer buckets.  Why is this a problem?  Shouldn't we be excited that folks want to keep a towel at the ready so they can constantly clean?  Well, yes, we are thrilled to see people wanting to keep things clean, but we don't want to see good efforts go to waste.  Sanitizer concentration does not stay stable, whether in the bucket or on the towel.  When towels are left out of sanitizer, the chemical dissipates from the cloth, leaving behind food particles at room temperature, with plenty of moisture, a decent pH and... time.  Anyone who has taken a food safety course through ServSafe or our department knows that those are ripe ingredients for bacterial growth.  By leaving the towel out at these optimum conditions, you've essentially created a petri dish of rich medium.  Then every time you wipe a surface with it, all you are doing is spreading the love.  The same thing happens when you let the sanitizer dip too low in your bucket.  The conditions are ripe for bacterial growth without enough chemical to kill them.  For a nice visual effect, think of a weak sani bucket as a vat of bacterial soup.

So-- what's the take home message?  Keep the towels in sanitizer when not in use, and keep your sanitizer at the correct concentration.  Do not use towels that have been sitting out of sanitizer, hanging from our belts or aprons  to clean off utensils and our hands.  While towels can be a great way to 'break the cycle' in the kitchen, they can also be a vehicle of cross-contamination when improperly used.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

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