Mary Lou Henrys K-12 Sanitizing & Spring Cleaning Wisdom

Spring Cleaning

When we think of spring, we also think of spring cleaning. The old adage of “It’s easier to keep it clean than to get it clean is true in many areas especially when it applies to commercial kitchen equipment. Most school systems however have a day or so each spring referred to as a cleaning day, mostly to do more in-depth cleaning than is done on a day to day basis. Keeping the equipment clean not only is necessary for food safety, but also helps to extend the life of the equipment. Using the wrong cleaning method or incorrect chemicals for the job can result in damage to the equipment. Here are a few pointers:


Cleaning is the process of removing food and other types of soil from a surface. Cleaning is done with a cleaning agent that removes food, soil, or other substances. The right cleaning agent must be selected because not all cleaning agents can be used on food-contact surfaces. (A food-contact surface is the surface of equipment or utensil that food normally comes into contact.) The label should indicate if the product can be used on a food-contact surface. The right cleaning agent must also be selected to make cleaning easy and not cause damage to the equipment. Cleaning agents are divided into four categories:

  • Detergents - Use detergents to routinely wash tableware, surfaces, and equipment. Detergents can penetrate soil quickly and soften it. Examples include dish washing detergent and automatic dishwasher detergents.

  • Solvent cleaners – Use periodically on surfaces where grease has burned on. Solvent cleaners are often called degreasers.

  • Acid cleaners -- Use periodically on mineral deposits and other soils that detergents cannot remove. These cleaners are often used to remove scale in ware washing machines and steam tables.

  • Abrasive cleaners -- Use these cleaners to remove heavy accumulations of soil that are difficult to remove with detergents. Some abrasive cleaners also disinfect. Clean food-contact surfaces that are used to prepare potentially hazardous foods as needed throughout the day but no less than every four hours. If they are not properly cleaned, food that comes into contact with these surfaces could become contaminated.


Sanitizing is done using heat, radiation, or chemicals. Heat and chemicals are commonly used as a method for sanitizing in a food service establishment; radiation rarely is. The item to be sanitized must first be washed properly before it can be properly sanitized. Some chemical sanitizers, such as chlorine and iodine, react with food and soil and so will be less effective on a surface that has not been properly cleaned.

Sanitizing Methods

Heat. There are three methods of using heat to sanitize surfaces – steam, hot water, and hot air. Hot water is the most common method used in food service establishments. If hot water is used in the third compartment of a three-compartment sink, it must be at least 171 degrees F (77 degrees C). If a high-temperature ware washing machine is used to sanitize cleaned dishes, the final sanitizing rinse must be at least 180 degrees F (82 degrees C). For stationary rack, single temperature machines, it must be at least 165 degrees F (74 degrees C). Cleaned items must be exposed to these temperatures for at least 30 seconds.
Chemicals. Chemicals that are approved sanitizers are chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium.

Chemical Sanitizers

Different factors influence the effectiveness of chemical sanitizers. The three factors that must be considered are:

  • Concentration -- The presence of too little sanitizer will result in an inadequate reduction of harmful microorganisms. Too much can be toxic.

  • Temperature -- Generally chemical sanitizers work best in water that is between 55 degrees F (13 degrees C) and 120 degrees F (49 degrees C).

  • Contact time -- In order for the sanitizer to kill harmful microorganisms, the cleaned item must be in contact with the sanitizer (either heat or approved chemical) for the recommended length of time.

Sanitizer Testing

Every kitchen must have the appropriate testing kit to measure chemical sanitizer concentrations. To accurately test the strength of a sanitizing solution, one must first determine which chemical is being used -- chlorine, iodine, or quaternary ammonium. Test kits are not interchangeable so check with your chemical supplier to be certain that you are using the correct kit. The appropriate test kit must then be used throughout the day to measure chemical sanitizer concentrations.

Anyone building or renovating schools that involve kitchens, serving areas or dining areas; please contact me at or 865-223-1150; or KaTom direct at (800-541-8683 or 423-586-5839). We would be grateful for the opportunity to provide quotes or respond to bids or RFP’s on any and all items needed.

Thank You,
Mary Lou Henry