Cleaning Agents: The Overlooked First Element of an End-to-End Sanitization Process

Dining out: One of the great pleasures of life, especially for those who hate, dislike or just don’t have the time to cook on a given day. But as much as we hate to yuck your yum, did you know the Food and Drug Administration has found that up to 60 percent of delis, fast food and full-service restaurants fail to comply with the cleaning objectives for food contact surfaces set forth by the Food Code?

These results are probably because of improper chemical sanitizer use. But the ever-important preceding cleaning step – the effective removal of soils and particles– is likely also an issue. In other words, there’s a lack of knowledge among staff on how to truly clean using products such as dish detergents, for example. 

Without this knowledge, i.e., without a proper cleaning step, both visible and invisible food soils can linger on glasses, utensils, dishes, and on general food contact surfaces. This, in turn, could make food contact sanitizers ineffective because those (in)visible soils have the potential to inhibit or quench quaternary, chlorine, iodine or lactic acid sanitizing chemistries. What’s more, foodstuff is much less heat conductive than glasses, ceramics or metal surfaces. Think about it – we’ve all microwaved a bowl of soup for five minutes, only to take it out and find that the bowl is scalding hot, but the soup is still cold. At the commercial level, this is a problem when it comes to hot sanitization strategies because remaining food on contaminated surfaces could prevent them from reaching the temperature thresholds required to inactivate germs. 

Long story short: overlooking or short-circuiting the cleaning step can result in a false sense of sanitation and heightened risk for foodborne infection transmission. 

Unlike registered sanitizers and disinfectants whose public health claims have been scrutinized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure performance as advertised, cleaning agents and products do not have to meet these same standards. Cleaning agents and products that aren’t registered by the EPA or lack public health claims are not required to undergo performance validation by regulatory agencies. The majority of cleaning agents and products used in the first basin of three-compartment commercial kitchen sinks, or in mechanical warewashing machines, have a lack of cleaning performance oversight by regulatory entities, and their performance against food soils is not assessed by independent entities. 

So, how should owners/operators proceed? It comes down to choosing cleaning products you have confidence in. Considerations when evaluating your cleaning product portfolio could include numerous factors: 

Effectiveness: Products You Trust 

Perhaps most important to consider when purchasing your cleaning portfolio is product efficacy. You wouldn’t buy a product that doesn’t work or make the lives of your employees easier. And you should have as much confidence in your cleaning products as you do in your employees. 

When trying a new cleaning product for their restaurant, P&G research has found two-thirds of restaurant owners typically base their purchase decisions on experience or trial and error. Bringing in time-tested and reliable cleaning products takes the guesswork out of having to choose new ones. 

Variety: Breadth of Products 

It’s important to assess breadth of products in a given line. According to the Conference for Food Protection, “cleaners should be used according to a Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP) specific to a location or piece of equipment being cleaned.”5 Cleaning a deep fryer requires a different performance strength from the detergent of choice compared to products intended for a salad bar; likewise, cleaning agents and products that meet the cleaning needs in a steak house or Italian restaurant will differ to those that do the job in a limited capacity coffee shop. 

When it comes to your choice, this means considering whether your supplier or brand of choice provides a variety of cleaning solutions. Some suppliers specialize in specific lines of products, i.e., floor/table cleaners. By contrast, identifying a single supplier that can provide numerous brands and products, across functionalities, streamlines the process of training employees, ordering products and managing supplies. P&G Professional, for example, provides 14 different cleaning brands to restaurants that are consumer-trusted and backed by decades of high performance. Choosing the right supplier can make an owner’s life easier and free up the brain space to spend more time focusing on growing the business. 

Innovation: Aiming for Superiority 

As a restaurateur, you know that the ability to develop your restaurant by innovating and implementing best practices is a sign of healthy growth. The same goes for your cleaning supplier. New product launches and formula upgrades indicate that your supplier is investing in product superiority, making their products the best. This should matter to you because it enables you to ensure you are consistently using best-in-class products that deliver irresistible performance. Keep an eye on your supplier’s innovations to ensure that they are doing the work on their end to keep your business working efficiently, while providing a clean that you can trust. 

According to one P&G study, one in three diners would pay more for a meal if they knew the business was using a personally recognizable and trusted brand of cleaning products. By purchasing products that are known and trusted by consumers, you can bring that level of clean to your business. 

Ultimately, proper cleaning of surfaces in food establishments remains an opportunity, and, with it, improvement in correct use of sanitizers and disinfectants. Correct use of sanitizers and disinfectants reduces the risk of transmission of foodborne pathogens. Cleaning should not be considered as or felt like just a chore. Implementing the right cleaning tools, superior cleaning agents and products, easy to execute procedures, and the right mindset will help achieve those goals.