People use the words ‘cleaning’ and ‘sanitising’ interchangeably in the mistaken belief that they mean the same thing. However, there is a difference between these two terms.
Cleaning is the process of removing visible dirt, soil, grease, clutter, food waste, and even bad odours from a surface. On the other hand, sanitising is the process of reducing pathogens that can spread diseases, contamination, and/or spoilage. They are two separate processes, and both are important to ensure clean and sanitary conditions. Cleaning alone is insufficient since common cleaning agents are not intended to destroy microorganisms.
It’s also important to note that an item must be thoroughly cleaned before it can be sanitised. Most sanitisers may not work effectively if not all visible contamination has been removed.
Sanitising should not be confused with sterilising, which is the process of removing all microorganisms completely. Sterilisation is performed in places like hospital operating rooms.
What items should be cleaned and sanitised?
In general, all items and surfaces that come into contact with food must be cleaned and sanitised for your well-being. This is because food-borne illnesses can cause severe health problems, or worse.
These items would include, among others:
- Pots and pans
- Kitchen counters and surfaces
Meanwhile, there are other items that must be cleaned, but not necessarily sanitised, since they do not come into contact with food, such as:
Cleaning and sanitising play an important role in ensuring the health of the community. These processes, when properly implemented, prevent the infestation of insects that have the potential to carry and spread diseases, and protect the people in your home and workplace from exposure to unsanitary conditions.
Common cleaning agents
Not all cleaning agents are safe for use on surfaces and items that come into contact with food. Check product labels to make sure if they can be used on food-contact surfaces.
There are four different types of cleaning agents:
- Detergent cleaner – A chemical substance that come in powder or liquid form. They contain surfactants that help penetrate contaminants and remove them quickly from the surface being cleaned.
- Solvent cleaner – Commonly referred to as a degreaser and is used to remove soiling, such as oil, grease, and other similar contaminants.
- Acid cleaner – A versatile and powerful substance designed to remove scaling and other inorganic deposits that other alkaline cleaners cannot remove.
- Abrasive cleaner – Designed to remove heavy amounts of soiling. A variety of ingredients provide the abrasive action, such as fine steel wool, or nylon particles, among others. Abrasives have the potential to scratch the surface being cleaned.
Chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium compounds have been proven to be effective for sanitising at the proper concentration. However, different factors can alter the effectiveness of these sanitisers:
- Concentration: Great care must be taken to ensure that these chemicals are used at the correct concentration. Microorganisms will not be adequately reduced if the concentration is too low; and they can be toxic if the concentration is too high. It’s important to follow chemical manufacturer’s instructions when using chemical sanitisers.
- Contact time: Some sanitisers require extended contact time to ensure the significant reduction of microorganisms.
- Temperature: In general, chemical sanitisers work at optimum strength between 55°F or 13°C and 120°F or 40°C.
As mentioned previously, surfaces and items must be thoroughly cleaned prior to sanitising, as sanitisers do not work well when contaminants are present.
The 6 steps for effective cleaning and sanitation
The following steps are essential for attaining a truly sanitary environment:
- Pre-cleaning – Involves scraping, wiping or sweeping away any food scraps and rinsing the surface or item with water.
- Washing – Contaminants are removed using hot water and detergent. Soaking is also recommended, if necessary.
- Rinsing – Removal of detergent and any loosened contaminants.
- Sanitising – Using a sanitiser to reduce the remaining microorganisms.
- Final rinse – Depending on the chemical manufacturer’s instructions, rinse off the sanitiser with water.
- Air dry – Allow surface or item to air dry.
Safe alternatives to harsh cleaners and sanitisers
Traditional chemical cleaners and sanitisers often contain chemicals such as chlorine and caustic soda. These substances have a strong positive or negative charge, and whilst this makes them effective cleaners, it also causes the substances to react with the surface being cleaned. As a result, the chemicals bond to the target surface, with oxidation forming as a white, reddish or green/blue crust. Initially, the cleaned surface may have a greater shine, but over time, continued use of the chemical cleaner will eventually etch the material to the point where it is dull and of lesser tensile strength.
Moreover, some of the chemicals are toxic and present a health and safety hazard to workers. In addition, they are non-biodegradable and will kill microorganisms found in wastewater treatment plants and waterways.
Safer alternatives such as the Triple7 range of products exist that effectively clean without hazardous materials such as caustics,solvents, and more. The Triple7 formulation is a homogenous blend of colloids, organic sequestrants, and hyper-wetting agents that become ‘super active’ when processed together. The products form a short-lived unstable emulsion which quickly breaks down, releasing the insoluble organic fats, oils, proteins, etc. These then separate from the water.
Triple7 products are water-soluble and attracted to fats, oils, and greases. While the cleaner breaks up and lifts away protein of fatty stains, the formulation does not have the capacity to interact with the cleaning surface.
Unlike traditional cleaning agents, Triple7 products are readily-biodegradable, non-carcinogenic and non-toxic, making them safe for humans and the environment.
Substituting harmful cleaning and sanitising chemicals with safer alternatives such as Triple7 chemistries ensures that detrimental effects to human health and the environment will be kept to a minimum.