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Know the Difference: Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing

Trust20 Contributors

September 9, 2021

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Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are regularly used interchangeably, but there are significant differences between them that most certainly matter. Making certain you and your team know the differences can help everyone know exactly which cleaning products to keep on hand, how to use them properly, and most importantly how to maintain a safe food service operation. 

Let's start with defining what each actually is.The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) clearly defines these terms as:

Cleaning uses soap/detergent and water to physically remove germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. 

Disinfecting uses chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects, but it does not tidy a dirty surface or physically remove the dead germs.

Sanitizing works by either cleaning or disinfecting a surface to lower the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements.

When to Disinfect
Regularly disinfecting nonporous surfaces is one of the most reliable ways to lower the risk of spreading germs from contact with frequently used surfaces. A disinfection schedule is an essential part of a restaurant’s daily safety routine and can help mitigate the germs on high-touch surfaces or finalize the clean-up of a big mess. This can easily be integrated into each staff member’s tasks as long as a food service establishment clearly communicates their expectations and management acts as a model for a business-wide culture of safety and cleanliness.

When to Sanitize
Sanitizing is essential to a safe food handling environment. Any and all food contact surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized after every use and between uses with different foods. Sanitizing is one of the most effective ways to prevent spreading pathogens from equipment to food.

Flow Chart: How to Clean, Sanitize, and Disinfect

Trust20 expert Cheryl Diballa, Distributor Manager of US ChemBev has made it simple to understand: 

  • Both food contact and non-food contact surfaces should first always be cleaned with hot, soapy water. 
  • Food contact surfaces (including those touched by the customers) should always be cleaned with an EPA-registered sanitizer.
  • Non-food contact surfaces should be wiped down with an EPA-registered disinfectant.

Operators should note there are many products registered with EPA as both sanitizers and disinfectants as they have been tested using both standards.

The definitions of these terms can help food industry workers more deeply understand food safety procedures. Knowing that only cleaning or disinfecting a surface is just a part of the sanitizing process can help staff remember the order of operations when washing dishes in a three-compartment sink or when closing down a food preparation station.

Dig into the differences further with Trust20's online Food Handler Certificate training today:

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