Sanitizers & Disinfectants in Commercial Kitchens

In restaurants, sanitizers and disinfectants are used on items from the restaurant tables to the food prep surfaces to prevent foodborne illness. Cleanliness leads to an overall better customer experience and can make or break a restaurant. Before talking more about things you should know and where to use sanitizers and disinfectants in a commercial restaurant, it’s important to understand what sanitizers and disinfectants are.

Sanitizers are used to reduce microorganisms from inanimate environments to safe levels determined by public health codes and regulations. Sanitizing agents are commonly used in connection with food and food-processing equipment. For example, there are sanitizing rinses for surfaces such as dishes and cooking utensils as well as sanitizers for cooking surfaces.

While sanitizers and disinfectants are somewhat different by definition, they are commonly used interchangeably as they both kill germs on contact. Now that you know more about what sanitizers and disinfectants are, we can talk about things you should know.

What You Should Know About Sanitizers and Disinfectants

1. The Common Sanitizers: The two common sanitizers used in restaurants are Chlorine and QUAT.

  • Chlorine Based Sanitizers:
    • Used almost exclusively for ware washing.
    • The positive is that it’s an instant kill. The negative is that it is unstable and “flashes off” rendering it useless soon after mixing a solution.
    • Due to its flash off, it must be tested frequently because even in 15 minutes it can no longer be within the health department limits. This is why it is mainly used in dish machines, as they have a controlled process that kills the germs and flushes out on each cycle.
    • Another negative is that it will rust equipment, eat away at metals and damage clothing or fabric. It also dries out the skin and is harsh in many different ways, which is another reason it is mainly used in dish machines.
    • It also has an obnoxious smell.
  • QUAT Based Sanitizers:
    • A product that is based on Quaternary Ammonium (QA) cations.
    • Used for all other areas in the restaurant.
    • Has a 10-second kill, meaning it must be in contact for 10 seconds in order to the kill the germs, but it is steady and consistent.
    • It is forever stable and doesn’t lose its potency for killing germs over time no matter the frequency it’s being used at.
    • It is not a harsh chemical in any way shape or form.
    • It is very light in odor.

2. QUAT Sanitizers Are More Cost Effective:

  • Chlorine is cheap, however, QUAT is actually more cost effective due to its dilution rate. For each part of QA you’re somewhere between 256-512 parts of water and 1 gallon of QA sanitizer will make as many as 500 gallons of sanitizing solution.
  • Plus, partnering with a company that properly dilutes the chemicals will also save money as they will only use the necessary chemical without any waste, whereas employees may use excess chemicals, costing you more money.
  • The right way is always going to be less expensive.

3. Concentrations Are Important:

  • It’s important to work with a chemical vendor to ensure sanitizers are used within a system and that they have proper concentrations all the time.
  • Without a system, employees will attempt to measure very precise and small ratios without the proper equipment making it difficult to dilute at the proper ratio.
  • This is an issue because too little sanitizer can result in unacceptable efficacy, while too much sanitizer can yield residues that do not meet standards.

4. Sanitizers Must Be Tested Every Day:

  • Restaurants are responsible per the health department to test their sanitizers every single day.
  • Test strips are an easy way to test quickly.
  • Because Chlorine is unstable it can be good one day and not the next, especially in a warm area like a kitchen. While QUAT doesn’t have this problem, there is an issue of measuring precisely to ensure the correct dilution, hence why it’s important to not depend on an employee to measure but instead to work with a chemical partner with the proper equipment and knowledge.

 5. Washing is Vital Prior to Sanitizing:

  • While washing an item cleans it, sanitizing is necessary to kill the bacteria and viruses. This is why it’s important to make sure items are washed before using any sanitizing chemicals. This goes for everything in a restaurant from dishes to utensils to employees’ hands.
  • In other words, sanitizers are not suitable for washing, but rather should be used in addition to washing. Thus meaning that a chemical like bleach is not a great cleaner, as it kills germs. While it makes stains disappear it doesn’t mean the stain isn’t there.

 6. Sanitizers Reduce the Risks of Food-Borne Illness:

  • Sanitizers are important to eliminate the risks of food-borne illness. Without proper sanitation of kitchen surfaces, equipment and employees’ hands, microbes can be transferred from one food to another leading to food-borne illness.

Where Should You Be Using Sanitizers in Your Restaurant?

Sanitizers should be used throughout the whole restaurant. Below are some examples of where they should be used along with tips to improve their uses.

1. Back of House –

  • Employee Hand Sanitation
    • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol are recommended as a component of hand hygiene by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
    • Hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are dirty or greasy which is why when using sanitizers employees should wash their hands first and then use the sanitizer.
    • Visit the CDC page for more info on when and how to use hand sanitizers.
  • Surface Sanitizers and Disinfecting Chemicals
    • Sanitizers should be used on all prep and cooking surfaces, on cooking utensils, kitchen walls and floors and on all equipment such as grills, hoods, sinks, faucets, ovens, coffee machines and more.
    • It’s important to make sure the sanitizer is strong enough and that you use the sanitizer for the proper amount of time.
  • Glass and Dishware Sanitizing
    • The most important function of your glass washer or dishwasher is to kill germs due to the fact that if people get sick you won’t have a restaurant anymore.
    • The secondary function is then for the equipment to clean the ware.
    • If you don’t have enough chemical in the sanitizing cycle and/or your dish machine does not have the correct temperature setting, the glasses and dishes will not be disinfected and cleaned well.

2. Front of House –

  • No matter what type of restaurant you have, it’s necessary to keep your business clean to achieve high customer satisfaction and reduce the risk of spreading germs. Below is a list of important areas to clean frequently with sanitizers and disinfectants.
    • Tables, chairs and booths
    • Condiment shakers, bottles and other items on the table
    • Door handles
    • Windows
    • Floors
    • Bathrooms

Sanitizers and disinfectants are vital for customer and employee health. Given that cleanliness can affect your business’ livelihood, restaurant owners need to make sure they’re using quality chemicals in the right places in the restaurant. Connect with your local chemical company to ensure you have the products needed to achieve a clean restaurant.