Whether seen or unseen, residues left behind by many of today’s cleaners may actually directly affect food safety and integrity and pose health risks to consumers.

Any business involved in the handling of food must comply with an increasingly complex web of policies, regulations, standards and laws concerning food safety to protect consumers from food safety hazards and food-borne diseases.

Clean and sanitary food contact surfaces is just one of the many requirements and demands placed on the food industry to ensure food safety compliance. But more than that, the chemical residues of cleaning agents, sanitisers and disinfectants need to be carefully considered when evaluating safe cleaning practices.

The Science Behind Chemical Residues

In food handling environments, chemical contamination can occur when food comes into contact with a surface that has been cleaned but not effectively rinsed, which can lead to chemical food poisoning.

At first glance, most residues can’t be seen, making them all the more dangerous.

“Immediately after use in surface cleaning, and independent of whatever method is used to apply them, detergent molecules remain chemically unchanged,” says Dr. Jay Glasel, managing member and founder of Global Scientific Consulting LLC. “However, a small but finite amount of detergent remains on the surface. Detergents are then either rinsed off the surface being cleaned or — in all too many cases — remain as residue on the surface.” (cmmonline.com)

This also depends on the chemical makeup of the cleaning product. The less toxic chemicals used, the less harmless the residue will be.

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Whenever cleaning agents, sanitisers or disinfectants that can degrade to form residues are used (e.g. hypochlorite disintegration to (per)chlorate), these residues should be noted and appropriately managed.

A Guide to Chemical Types

Detergents

Detergents are soap in liquid form. They attract and wash away grease, dirt and debris from surfaces. They do not kill bacteria.

Sanitisers

Sanitisers are chemicals that are capable of destroying microorganisms including food poisoning and other disease-causing bacteria. When manufacturer’s instructions are followed, they can reduce surface contamination by bacteria to a safe level.

Disinfectants

Disinfectants are commonly household cleaning products suitable for toilets and floors but not always for food contact surfaces. They generally contain deodorants. They must not be used as sanitisers for food contact surfaces (unless advised by the manufacturer that it is safe and suitable to do so).

Source: sahealth.sa.gov.au

Steps to Effectively Clean and Sanitise

Pre-clean – remove dirt and food by sweeping, scraping, wiping or rinsing with water. Remember to disassemble equipment before if applicable.

Wash – use warm water and detergent. Soak if necessary.

Rinse – rinse off detergents and any remaining food or dirt.

Sanitise – sanitise to eliminate/reduce microorganisms to safe levels.

Final rinse – rinse off sanitiser (if necessary).

Dry – air dry, use a single use towel or clean tea towel.

Source: sahealth.sa.gov.au

Food Safety & HACCP

According to the Global Food Safety Initiative:

Food business operators might opt to use the HACCP [Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points] approach to evaluate chemical hazards that can be introduced to finished food through the application of sanitisers, disinfectants and cleaning agents on Food Contact Surfaces (FCS).

Image: Process for development of a cleaning and sanitation programme (Source: Chemicals in Food Hygiene – mygfsi.com)

In the development of a hygiene schedule, it is recommended to consult a professional cleaning company for assistance about cleaning methods, professional-grade cleaning products and regulatory knowledge. 

Contact The Specialists for practical advice about cleaning for food safety.