Best cleaning practices for surfaces

Follow these recommendations for cleaning food contact services and make use of these reputable resources.

Cleaning is an area where there is a spectrum of “norms” – which vary according to public policy standards, industry standards, personal standards, and what one learns on the internet – which of course must be true.  In all seriousness, there are some great reputable organizations that have great online resources – some of which are the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), the Environmental Working Group (EWG), NSF, The Partnership for Food Safety EducationFood Safety and Inspection Service,  U.S.D.A., and Michigan State University Extension. These are great resources to learn more about best practices for cleaning.

Focusing on surfaces, there are standards that the public should be practicing, whether it is in one’s home, or at a public place such as a school, restaurant or church. According to the NSF, the germiest places in our homes are common contact surfaces such as the kitchen sink, countertops and faucet handles, among others. The highest concentration of germs in the home is on an item that is actually used to clean surfaces – a sponge or dishcloth.

Know how to take care of your sponge and the correct use of soapy water:

  • If you use a sponge, microwave a moist sponge on high for 2 minutes daily, and replace every 2 weeks or more, as needed. 
  • A better option would be to use paper towels that can be discarded or a dishcloth that can be washed daily with a sanitizer such as bleach, or on the sanitizing selection of the washing machine. One tsp bleach (plain – not scented) per quart of water is a recommended solution for sanitizing, however, you should refer to the label for specific recommendations, as it may differ among varieties.
  • Washing surfaces with soap and water is important to remove particles, including those infected with bacteria, but this practice doesn’t destroy the bacteria. Washing surfaces should happen regularly.

Know the difference between disinfecting and sanitizing:

  • Disinfecting, which is also referred to as antimicrobial or antibacterial, is destroying or killing most germs on any surface – i.e, making sterile. This is appropriate for non-porous surfaces such as diaper change tables, counter tops, handles, toilets, and sinks.
  • Sanitizing is reducing germs to a level considered safe by public health codes or regulation. This is appropriate for food contact surfaces, toys and pacifiers.
  • To tell the difference, look for the words “disinfect”, "disinfectant," "antibacterial" or "sanitize" on the label, as well as an EPA registration number, as this ensures that the product has met EPA requirements for killing germs.
  • For food handling: Sanitize countertop surfaces after they have been washed, especially when potential contaminants have been used (such as raw meat)– this is most likely once a day or more.

Know how to use wipes properly

  • You may use wipes – as long as you are using them correctly. To correctly disinfect, the surface has to be kept wet for a specific period of time – see label for guidelines. Some disinfectant wipes have a higher concentration of chemicals and are not intended for food contact surfaces, and may recommend using a “potable” rinse after use.  However, there are some food-grade disinfectant wipes, look for the “NSF” stamp on the container – they can commonly be found at food service retailers.

Sanitizing and disinfecting wipes may be good to use on food surfaces – depending on the wipes and the surface.  MSU Extension recommends safe food handling and working in a clean environment to prevent foodborne illness.    

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