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Clean Insights Blog

Sanitizing Food Processing Surfaces and Equipment: Definitions and Procedures

| July 27, 2018


In the food industry (whether manufacturing or food-handling), the importance of keeping surfaces, equipment and utensils sanitary cannot be overemphasized. Soils (food waste and bacteria) can build up on surfaces if they are not regularly cleaned, and maintained increasing the risk of foodborne illnesses unintentionally being produced inside your business. According to the CDC, in the United States alone, foodborne illnesses account for 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths a year.[i] Making sure sanitary procedures are in place will help protect your business from contributing to these staggering statistics.


It can be difficult to know when to clean, sanitize, sterilize or disinfect since understanding what the various sanitary procedures actually mean, has been complicated by the fact that people use these terms interchangeably. The purpose of this article is to differentiate between the various sanitary procedures by defining each of the terms- in order to better understand what they are and what they are designed to accomplish. It also aims to identify practical ways businesses can make sure surfaces and equipment are pathogen free in order to keep foods safe.

The following definitions are directly quoted from R. H. Schmidt’s article (2015), “Basics Elements of Equipment cleaning and Sanitizing in Food Processing and Handling Operations.”[ii] This scientific study is one of the most comprehensive and well-written articles that clearly differentiates between the various sanitary procedures used in the industry. It also classifies the different types of soils so businesses can make an informed choice when selecting a product. Furthermore, it identifies and discusses the chemical makeup of ingredients that will best suit your sanitary needs. As a result, this article is a forerunner and is cited extensively in subsequent works on this subject.



Cleaning: complete removal of food soil using appropriate detergent chemicals under recommended conditions.

Sterilize: refers to the statistical destruction and removal of all living organisms.

Disinfect: refers to inanimate objects and the destruction of all vegetative cells (not spores).

Sanitize: refers to the reduction of microorganisms to levels considered safe from a public health viewpoint.

As previously stated, clearly defining the terminology used to keep surfaces and equipment sanitary is necessary in order to understand the goal of the sanitary intervention and choose the correct product that will achieve that goal. If you want to disinfect then you need to make sure you understand the scientific definition of what disinfecting is and what it does so you can make an informed decision when choosing a product that claims to disinfect. Keep in mind, although each procedure has a very specific outcome it is still important to make sure that surfaces are thoroughly cleaned before introducing other non-cleaning procedures.



There are numerous organizations that have developed maintenance standards for the food industry and there is also a branch of science devoted to hygienic equipment design. Industry material standards dictate that regardless of whether or not a food contact surface is coated, it must be smooth, impervious, free of cracks and crevices, nontoxic, non-contaminating, nonabsorbent, non-porous and corrosion resistant.[iii] Be aware though, that just because a surface is corrosive resistant does not mean any product can be used on it. For example, most food contact surfaces are made of stainless steel because it is typically long lasting and corrosion resistant. Yet, chlorine bleach should not be used because it is harsh and can damage the surface by discoloring it and corroding it (think rust). Damaged surfaces have a higher risk of becoming breeding grounds for germs because they can easily absorb bacteria and infectious pathogens deeply into the surface.

Hygienic design, cleaning, sanitizing, and equipment maintenance are all important factors to consider in order to keep food safe and consumers healthy. Case in point, the 2011 Listeria outbreak in cantaloupe was linked to equipment that had not been cleaned properly, was not designed according to industry standards, and was poorly maintained.[iv]

It’s easy to grasp the idea that food-contact surfaces need to be maintained and effectively cleaned but what is often overlooked is that non-contact food surfaces or ancillary equipment need the same attention. If non-food contact surfaces or ancillary equipment is not cleaned or maintained properly, there is a risk of indirectly contaminating the food-contact surface or food-contact part of the equipment. The potential risk of indirect contamination cannot be ignored.



Now that the sanitary terms have been defined, here are some practical ways to make sure you are keeping various surfaces and equipment safe and pathogen free:

  • Train employees on proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures and make sure they are following these procedures
  • Outline a schedule for cleaning specific equipment and surfaces
  • Clean soil on a daily basis. In other words, be proactive and not reactive to bacterial growth
  • When cleaning stainless steel clean and wipe in the direction of the finish
  • Don’t use abrasive cleaning materials such as wire brushes or other materials that can permanently scratch surfaces.
  • Be careful not to use harsh chemicals that can damage surfaces making them more susceptible to contamination
  • Do not use damaged equipment-replace it or repair it
  • Make sure to take equipment apart when applicable in order to keep it clean and corrosion free
  • Make sure to clean nonfood-contact as well food-contact surfaces/ equipment in order to eliminate the chances of indirect contamination
  • Use products designed to clean crevices as well as flat surfaces
  • Use products that are non-toxic regardless of the surface or equipment being cleaned.



2XL is a leading manufacturer of effective cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting products designed for use in multiple industries. 2XL No Rinse Sanitizing Food Service Wipes can revolutionize the way you eliminate soil from food-contact and non-food contact surfaces. Remember, all other sanitary procedures are dependent upon an effectively cleaned surface. These food wipes are designed to clean and sanitize all of your surfaces. These wipes are versatile enough to wipe away soil from all those hard to reach places found on intricate equipment. Each wipe contains ingredients that are powerful and effective but are non-toxic and bleach free. These wipes are FDA approved, NSF listed and kill 99.9% of bacteria in 30 seconds. Let 2XL help protect your facility from foodborne pathogens.


2XL is your trusted partner in the Food Manufacturing Industry


[i] https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html

[ii] http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fs077

[iii] https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/december-2012january-2013/food-equipment-hygienic-design-an-important-element-of-a-food-safety-program/

[iv] https://www.foodmanufacturing.com/article/2016/10/preventing-microbiological-contamination-product-inspection-equipment


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