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Cleansing and sanitation

In the article Building an HACCP Program, we took you step-by-step through the development, implementation and verification of a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system—a personalized food safety plan—in your establishment. You learned that an effective food safety plan must include correct Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), the basic prerequisites that provide a solid foundation for food safety techniques. One of the most essential of these SOPs is proper cleaning and sanitizing within the establishment.

The process of cleaning and sanitizing food-contact items is ongoing—before and after every use, or every four hours during continuous use. Because dishware, utensils, tables and preparation surfaces can easily become sources of food contamination, their cleanliness becomes part of the everyday employee routine. This daily practice is vital for the food safety of any establishment, but without a more encompassing cleaning schedule, long-term problems could still be overlooked. For example, equipment or facility areas such as walls and floors that require less frequent cleaning could be neglected or completely forgotten. No matter how carefully you prepare, cook and serve food, foodborne illness bacteria and viruses can still contaminate your foods unless you have a complete cleaning and sanitizing program.

To properly clean and sanitize, you must differentiate the two and the role each plays in the cleanliness of your establishment. To be effective, cleaning and sanitizing must be a two-step process in which surfaces are first thoroughly cleaned to eliminate any soil that prevents the sanitizer from working properly. “Cleaning is the successful removal of the gross soils on the surface with a good wash-and-rinse process,” says Kim Ashton, director of foodservice business development for Johnson Wax Professional. “But the key to keeping surfaces free of bacterial contaminants is the final sanitizing step that reduces harmful microorganisms to a safe level.”

The most effective method to prevent food safety hazards from walls, floors or equipment is to develop a master cleaning schedule within your establishment. A master cleaning schedule organizes all cleaning and sanitizing jobs to ensure they are performed regularly. “Through the implementation of a proper cleaning and sanitizing program,” says Ashton, “the operation is less at risk for food safety problems.” Like a HACCP plan, developing and using a cleaning schedule takes commitment from management and involvement from employees. But the reward-safe food and satisfied customers-is worth the effort.

Identify Your Cleaning and Sanitation Needs

The first step in creating a master cleaning schedule is identifying the establishment’s overall cleaning needs. Walk through your establishment and note all equipment. Determine how and when each item is used and how often each needs to be cleaned. Also note the areas of your facility that may have been overlooked for cleaning, e.g., walls, ceiling, light fixtures, floors, floor drains and shelves. Then record the cleaning procedures, if any, currently in use for these items and areas. “Managers should inspect areas or equipment carefully, to pinpoint all food safety hazards,” says Barbara Kiefel from Colgate-Palmolive’s Institutional Products Division. As you survey your establishment and your employees’ habits, ask your staff for input on improving the cleaning process. Because employees do the cleaning, they may have valuable insight to share.

After identifying the facility area or piece of equipment to be cleaned, you must then determine the specific cleaning needs of that area or item. Refrigerated units should be manually cleaned and sanitized regularly to remove soil, mold and odors. Clean-in-place equipment, such as soft-serve yogurt machines or milk and beverage dispensers, may be designed to have cleaning and sanitizing solutions pumped through them. Since clean-in-place equipment often holds potentially hazardous foods, it should be cleaned and sanitized daily (unless otherwise noted by manufacturer). On stationary equipment, food-contact surfaces should be removed (if possible) for cleaning and sanitizing daily. If food-contact surfaces are fixed, wash and rinse them manually, then wipe them with a chemical-sanitizing solution. In some cases, spray-cleaning of stationary equipment may be allowed by manufacturers.

The cleaning needs of each area in your kitchen or food-preparation facility depend on several factors: the type of food served by your establishment, the rate of ventilation in the kitchen; the frequency each piece of equipment in the area is used; and the proximity of the area to the food being prepared. For example, the heavily soiled floors and walls around the fryers in a quick-service establishment will need to be cleaned often. Otherwise, floors should be either cleaned immediately following any spillage or given a general cleaning daily. Other kitchen features, such as shelves, ceiling and light fixtures should be cleaned on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis in order to minimize the dust, condensation or dirt that could contact food. The sanitizing of your facility surfaces, while not always necessary, should be determined according to your establishment’s individual needs.

Selection of Cleaning and Sanitizing Materials

When selecting the cleaning agents and tools for your establishment, consider the needs you have identified for each piece of equipment or facility area. With the different cleaning agents available—detergents, solvent cleaners and abrasive cleaners—there are appropriate cleaning and sanitizing materials for different cleaning tasks. Detergents contain surfactants that help them quickly penetrate and soften the soil. General-purpose detergents are used to clean fresh soil from floors, walls, ceilings and most equipment. Heavy-duty detergents remove aged or dried soils, wax and baked or burned-on grease from the same surfaces. Solvent cleaners, often called degreasers, contain a grease-dissolving agent that works well on range hoods, oven doors and backsplashes with burned-on grease. Abrasive cleaners contain a scouring agent that helps to scrub hard-to-remove soils from floors.

While different cleaners work better for certain surfaces or stains, the two methods of sanitizing—heat or chemical—are most effective in certain environmental circumstances. Heat sanitizing, which works by either immersing or spraying the surface in hot water, must be monitored to maintain proper temperatures. Use a thermometer, a high-temperature probe or temperature-sensitive labels to check that water is at least 171 degrees (77 degrees C). Chemical sanitizing is also performed by immersing cleaned objects, as well as by rinsing, swabbing or spraying the equipment or facility areas. The process, however, must be regulated for concentration and contact time of the chemical-sanitizing solution in order to maintain effectiveness. The sanitizing solution must be changed when its concentration falls below the amount required or when it is visibly dirty. These signs may indicate that the sanitizer is no longer effective. Check for concentration using a test kit designed specifically for the sanitizing chemical being used. For contact time requirements in your jurisdiction, check with your local regulatory agency.

Finally, determine the tools you will need for each cleaning and sanitizing task. For heavily soiled equipment and floors, for example, steel wool or other abrasive scouring pads may be appropriate; however, metal scouring pads can break apart, leaving residue on surfaces that may later contaminate food. If the amount of food on the surface is moderate, brushes are most effective to loosen more soil more easily, but make sure you use the correct kind of brush for the task at hand. Crimped-bristle brushes, for example, hold more water for wet cleaning jobs, while brushes designed to clean grease have stiff bristles made of brass or stainless steel. Keep additional tools on hand that staff use on a daily basis, especially mops, wiping cloths, buckets and wringers.

To prevent cross-contamination from cleaning tools, employees need to clean and sanitize wiping cloths, brushes and other food-contact surface tools between uses. An alternative, suggests Bill Bauenfield, Foodservice Segment Manager for Kimberly-Clark’s Away From Home Sector is using a refillable wet wiping system that offers a roll of disinfectant wipers. “Instead of using the same cloth on different cleanser-sprayed surfaces or dipping a wiper into a bucket of solution, wet-wiping systems provide a clean, fresh wiper every time,” says Bauenfield. “A completely enclosed wet-wiping system offers a convenient, controlled, time-saving and economical food safety tool that actively prevents cross-contamination.” In addition, keep your establishment’s tools separated and color-coded to avoid misuse and cross-contamination.

Organizing a Master Cleaning Plan

Now that you have analyzed your establishment’s cleaning and sanitizing needs, you can create a master cleaning schedule to best communicate the procedures, tools and cleaning times to meet those needs. “In order to be effective in the prevention of contamination,” says Kiefel, “the master cleaning schedule should be designed as a clear, easy-to-understand, organized structure for your staff.” As you set up your master cleaning plan, consider the who, what, when and how of each cleaning task.

Who should clean it?
Assign cleaning jobs to specific people according to the areas they work in. General facility tasks, such as the cleaning of shelves or ceilings, can be rotated to distribute the work fairly. Designating certain job titles as responsible for certain tasks may also be helpful, especially if you experience high turnover within your establishment. Posting the job title makes everyone aware and accountable for seeing that the job gets done.

What should be cleaned?
Arrange your schedule logically, grouped by area within the facility and in the order cleaning tasks should be performed. Use a dry-erase board or other changeable surface to post daily cleaning schedules and the names of those responsible for each task. “One of the advantages of a master cleaning schedule is the attention it brings to the cleaning process,” Kiefel explains. “Posting a schedule makes everyone more aware of the places or equipment that once had a lesser priority.”

When should it be cleaned?

Employees responsible for their own areas or equipment should clean as they go, then clean and sanitize at the end of their shifts. Major cleaning should be scheduled for after closing, when food won’t be contaminated and service to customers will not be interrupted. Be sure to schedule additional time and crew members to help. Employees who must clean before the end of their shifts or after late-night closings may cut corners.

How should it be cleaned?

Provide clearly written instructions that guide your employees through each step of the cleaning process. These instructions ensure that everyone in your organization is on the same page, providing the same level of safety, says Kiefel. To prevent hazardous chemicals from contaminating food, always specify by name the cleaning tools and chemicals to be used, and color-code your cleaning supplies to distinguish between food-contact and non-food-contact chemicals.

In the development of your master cleaning schedule, you can also work with experts who will provide everything from outside evaluation of your establishment to creation of the schedule itself.

The Finishing Touches

A living document like your HACCP plan, your master cleaning schedule needs to be monitored and tested to verify its effectiveness. Keep a checklist of cleaning tasks to confirm that each job has been completed properly. Regularly supervise each procedure to ensure the tools, supplies and cleaning method designated for each piece of equipment or facility area achieve the desired result. Monitor employees as they clean and sanitize to make sure they are following directions and to determine where added explanation would benefit, and always ask employees for their input to ensure the efficiency of the process. In addition, always review and update your cleaning schedule when a menu, cooking procedure or equipment change occurs, or when a walk-through examination reveals unnoticed soil or dirt in your facility.

Once cleaning and sanitizing tasks, procedures and responsibilities are established, you are ready to train your employees in your new master cleaning program. Customized in-house training helps your staff members understand the importance of a cleaning and sanitizing schedule and how it will benefit your establishment. As part of this training, demonstrate each cleaning procedure and involve your employees through activities and participation. Motivate and reward them for learning; their enthusiasm and involvement will make them part of the process and result in greater efficiency and cleanliness for the entire operation.


Be sure the cleaning and sanitizing of your establishment remains a vital part of your food safety system. The work going into your HACCP plan to maintain food safety during receiving, storage and preparation is undermined unless you keep your facility and equipment clean and sanitary. The safety of your food, the health of your customers and the success of your business depends on your commitment.

Jorge Hernandez is director of technical education at the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

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