The proper identification, storage and use of cleaners, sanitizers and other chemicals in fast food restaurants are in need of attention. That’s a statement by an FDA report on the Occurrence of Foodborne Illness Risk Factors in Foodservice, Restaurant and Retail Facilities. Those who buy, sell and use wipes for these facilities are all part of the solutions, and opportunities.
Any producer, packager or user of wipes for foodservice cleaning and sanitizing can contribute to the reduction of occurrence of foodborne illness that is “in need of priority attention” according to the FDA. It starts with basics like industry terminology.
Many people are confused about the difference between clean, sanitized and disinfected. They are different processes with different outcomes. Improper cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces opens the way for the transmission of potentially dangerous microbes to food and eventually to the public. To clean is to remove visible soil, food debris, and other types of soil from a surface.
Cleaning is usually performed using chemicals, in the form of a surfactant (soap), warm water, and scrubbing. Cleaning can include—individually or in combination—detergents, solvents, abrasive cleaners, and acid cleaners.
Cleaning is only the first step. In the food industry, cleaning is followed by sanitizing. Sanitizing removes what you can’t see. Sanitizing is the act of reducing the number of bacteria and other microorganisms on a clean surface to safe levels.
The worst instances of cross-contamination are use of the wiping rag. Cleaning cloths, if used moist, must be kept in a bucket of CLEAN sanitizer according to the FDA Food Code. Verification of proper sanitizer concentration is done by using sanitizer test strips. Companies like Legacy Converting of Cranbury, NJ, who sell wipers for the food service industry assist customers, in their case by providing a Quat Test Presentation, a sanitizing method.
Sanitizer effectiveness is based on several factors, including concentration of the solution, water temperature & water hardness, and contact time. Any sanitizer being used for food contact surfaces must be EPA approved for that use. Sanitizing lowers the number of germs to a safe level.
Disinfecting is defined as killing germs on objects and surfaces. Disinfecting is a normal requirement in critical care areas of healthcare facilities. Some proponents of disinfecting think that the foodservice industry should widely be using disinfecting techniques, another subject with another protocol. All of these processes, cleaning-sanitizing-disinfecting are targeted at reducing or virtually eliminating hazardous situations in the food service and similar industries.
EPA regulates antimicrobial pesticides intended for use on SURFACES while the FDA regulates products intended for use in or on humans or animals.
Bleach-based and quaternary ammonium sanitizers are the most commonly used in foodservice facilities. Unlike bleach and bleach-based compounds, “quats” can be used to both clean and sanitize a surface. However, quats need a longer contact time with a soiled surface and, once applied, should be allowed to remain for a specified number of minutes (or as manufacturer recommended) before being wiped off. Most household products require that surfaces treated with quats be rinsed before food is placed on the surface. In addition, surfaces must be thoroughly rinsed between cleaning and sanitation steps when using quats. It should be noted that cleaning and sanitizing products are evolving in this marketplace, with new protocols rolling out. Following instructions is the key to being effective.
There are industry differences of opinion. For example, the Partnership for Food Safety Education says disinfectants should generally not be used for food contact surfaces because they can leave behind harmful residues.
Resources are readily available, if sometimes complicated for those new to this arena. The Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has its Effective Cleaning and Sanitizing Procedures. Other resources include The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; NSF, the National Sanitation Foundation assists companies in learning and compliance. They help with SQF (Safe Quality Food) Certification and other guidelines. Major national wipes players include Kimberly-Clark, Georgia-Pacific and SCA, all with customer assistance resources. Others including Legacy Converting, ITW and Texwipe deliver information as well as industry-targeted wipes.
“Sanitizing wipes are the best way to go in a food processing or food serving area,” says a Partnership for Food Safety Education trainer. “They’re safer, and you don’t have to worry about chemical residue or disinfectant residue afterward if you don’t rinse [the surface].”
With wipes and working around food, users can clean with a wet wipe, then rinse with potable water, and then sanitize using either a bleach or quaternary ammonium solution. Wipes can also be used to sanitize food contact surfaces following cleaning. Labeling and directions are the key; for example, wipes should be labeled as sanitizing wipes approved for foodservice facilities.
Standards and inspections come from Federal, state or local levels, causing some variation. They may use SQF or GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) audit procedures.
One of six Americans get sick from eating contaminated food and another 3,000 die annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A dedicated specialty wipes industry can make a real impact.