Sanitation is a broad term.

There are components of it that relate to personal hygiene, pest control, and many people even equate the term with their local residential trash service.

In fact, you’ve probably heard many sanitation terms used interchangeably. But for food manufacturers, a term that’s so broad has some very specific imperatives for any food safety plan.

In today’s CL:4 post, we provide some depth to the breadth of information floating around about sanitation.


All sanitizing agents are not created equal. The effectiveness of a sanitizer for cleaning is dependent on factors including temperature, exposure time, concentration, and microbial load, to name just a few.

One of the challenges for sanitation professionals is choosing what kind of sanitation method to use depending on a thorough evaluation and balancing of those factors.


Sterilizers represent one of the major classifications when it comes to sanitation. They can destroy or eliminate all forms of microbial life including mold, viruses, bacteria and spores (they can also be referred to as sporacides).

Some types of sterilizers include Ethylene oxide, Nitrogen dioxide, Ozone and Peroxyacetic Acid.


Another classification, more commonly used even in households, disinfectants include alcohol, bleach, Hydrogen peroxide, Quaternary ammonium salts and chlorine dioxide.

Disinfectants may destroy or irreversibly inactivate mold and bacteria, but unlike sterilizers, are not lethal to spores.


Both sterilizers and disinfectants work chemically at the molecular level to disrupt protein interactions so they no longer function. The substances unfold the cell membrane proteins and allow the external chemical to enter and disrupt.

The chemicals may also disrupt cells at the surface level. In those cases, chemicals puncture the cell walls and the cell contents are destroyed. Whether the substance works internally or externally, an effective sanitation approach results in destroyed cellular DNA.

Wet vs. Dry Sanitation

Wet cleaning agents are perhaps the first to come to mind for many, but there are a host of food production facilities which are not amenable to wet cleaning.

In cases where low moisture foods are being produced, or when water may negatively impact product quality, dry cleaning methods can be utilized.

There are step-by-step cleaning guides available for these types of methods. Generally, dry cleaning requires physically removing materials from walls, surfaces and floors. Pressurized air and vacuums may aid in fully removing debris, and alcohol-based sanitizers keep moisture out of the process.


As a final word, sanitation programs can be very complex due to the many factors that must be considered.

Because of that, validating processes is the only way to know for sure that an approach is working. Validation can provide answers about the chemical concentration, hold times and application procedures needed to ensure effective sanitation.

The CL:4 Series is an ongoing resource for food quality & safety professionals. Chestnut Labs provides easily-digestible food safety info and answers in 400 words or so.

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