Cleanliness has always been of high importance in the foodservice industry. With a high risk for bacteria and cross-contamination that can cause sickness, rigid guidelines are set in place by governing bodies to ensure the safety of the community and workers. Even so, cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting has never been more important in restaurants, schools, and hospitals since the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. What is the difference between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting? Which should you be doing? 

Cleaning vs Sanitizing vs Disinfecting

What is Cleaning? 

Cleaning is the first step in the process where germs and visible debris are removed from surfaces. This includes day to day basics like wiping counters with a soapy rag, washing dishes, vacuuming, etc. Octoclean.com states that “cleaning helps reduce the number of germs that can lead to infection; however it does not necessarily kill any germs.” 

Cleaning vs Sanitizing vs Disinfecting

What is Sanitizing? 

The next step is sanitizing. This includes reducing germs and bacteria to safe levels to decrease the risk of infections. Sanitizing may not kill all viruses, but it drastically reduces germs – by 99.9%. 

A way to think about this process is with hand sanitizer. If your hands are covered in dirt and you try to then use hand sanitizer, it will just make a mess. First, you need to wipe off your hands to rid them of the dirt (clean), then you can use hand sanitizer to reduce germs. To sanitize anything, it must first be cleaned. 

What needs to be sanitized in a commercial kitchen? 

In the food service industry, it is required that any surface foods touch be sanitized – dinnerware, drinkware, and food prep and cooking equipment. Additionally, high-touch areas need to be sanitized. Examples include machinery control knobs, tables, countertops, door handles, menus, and more.   

To properly sanitize, commercial dishwashers use very hot water and/or sanitizing chemicals on dinnerware, drinkware, etc. For other sanitizing, cleaning chemicalssuch as quaternary ammonia must be used to the specifications of the manufacturer to safely reduce the number of germs. These chemicals are much stronger than just simple soap, so gloves, eyewear, and other safety gear may be required when using these products.  

What is Disinfecting? 

Disinfecting is an even more thorough version of sanitizing – killing 99.999% of germs, viruses and fungi on surfaces. In the United States, the EPA approves chemicals to be used that will prevent spreading. Restaurants have very few areas that need to be disinfected vs sanitized, mainly the restroom, but operators should check with local health codes to ensure proper disinfecting. 

Relevant links: