Sanitizing a food preparation space can be intimidating if you’re new to the game. With all of the products out there, all the suggestions from the F.D.A. and health inspectors, tips and tricks listed online, and well, every other manual and book on the subject, there’s a lot to consider. A lot of health risks lurk in unkempt corners and dirty counter tops. Rather than trying to take it all in, we’ve created a narrower list of things to be aware of, types of disinfectants, and how to use those cleaning agents for dishes, food preparation surfaces, and more.

A Disinfectant Definition

A disinfectant is a chemical agent, also known as an antimicrobial used for killing bacteria and viruses. These chemicals can include bleach, chlorine, and hydrogen peroxide. A physical agent can also be classified as a disinfectant and includes things like strong ultraviolet light, high temperatures and steam.

These agents, either chemical or physical, are used to sanitize food, such as steaming broccoli, and surfaces, like wiping down countertops and toilet seats, or cleaning human skin. Some sanitizers are safe to use, while others can be poisonous upon skin contact or ingestion. All should be carefully administered and monitored by responsible adults.

What Does It Mean to Sanitize your Restaurant?

The easily understood definition of sanitization is the process of using a chemical or physical agent – a disinfectant — to clean and to kill germs. The key with sanitizing a place where hundreds or thousands of people come through on a daily basis, however, is recognizing the hotbeds where bacteria and viruses thrive if left unattended. Some of these hotspots include:

  • Kitchen counters where food is prepared
  • Anything that ever comes in contact with raw meats, poultry or fish
  • Door knobs
  • Cash registers
  • Faucet handles
  • Entry way floor mats
  • Cleaning rags, sponges, vacuums, mops, and brooms
  • Soap dispensers
  • Refillable condiments containers (such as a ketchup pump or bottle)
  • Seals on food storage or preparation equipment
  • Napkin dispensers
  • Toilet seats and the underside of toilet lids
  • Front counter tops

That’s a lot of surfaces and places where germs collect and grow. One of best tools to make sure all such places are sanitized regularly is a checklist with all such surfaces listed.

What Kinds of Disinfectants Should You Use?

There are several common disinfectants available on the market. Most of these are strong chemical agents like chlorine, bleach, or peroxide-based cleaners. Many companies sell specially designed chemical products for restaurant grade cleaning, and label the products according to use. An example is a sink sanitizer for the third stage process of cleaning a sink after removing food particles and washing away of surface grime. Others may simply label a disinfectant as multi-purpose or surface cleaner. These can be used for cleaning counter tops, food preparation areas, and freezers and refrigerators.

What is Bleach, and is it Safe to Use?

One of the most commonly used disinfectants is bleach. This is a great disinfectant for sterilizing and sanitizing surfaces like toilets and counter tops. Bleach is an overarching name given to a group of chemicals generally used to kill bacteria, to clean white fabric or to remove stains.

This type of cleaning agent is powerful for cleaning anything from grout to sanitizing metal equipment, and it should be handled carefully. Skin can become irritated, or dry, or eyes can become damaged if direct exposure occurs. Breathing in bleach can cause issues for your lungs and esophagus, so while you can clean with it, you need to do so with open windows and doors to prevent breathing in too much of it. Wearing rubbers gloves is recommended, and some may wish to use a protective mask while using bleach to clean.

How to Clean Dishes Properly

One of the biggest challenges in the restaurant business is properly cleaning the dishes used for preparation and service of food. Food handlers, servers, and cashiers may all handle a single plate before it ever reaches the hands of your customers. Much like door knobs and dollar bills, dirty dishes can wreak havoc on the health. One simple way to disinfect your dishes is with a bleach solution.

After washing dishes in restaurant grade soap and water, dishes should be soaked for two minutes or longer in a solution of bleach and water, with a ratio of two teaspoons of bleach per one gallon of water. These dishes should then be completely air-dried before being put away or reused for the next round of customers.

The key to keeping your restaurant clean is knowing which disinfectants to use, how to use them, and remembering the unusual spots that bacterium and viruses love. Make a check list, clean regularly, and avoid overexposure to chemicals as you clean.

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