Did you know that 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from foodborne illnesses this year alone? Along with other food safety practices like avoiding cross-contamination and cooking food to the right temperature, proper cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are critical steps in preventing pathogens that can cause foodborne illness. After all, food residues on food-contact surfaces, dishes, utensils, and other equipment can provide the ideal environment for disease-causing bacteria and viruses to thrive.
In this article, we’ll cover the basics of foodborne germs and illnesses and how to prevent them in your commercial kitchen, home kitchen, and beyond.
First, Let’s Talk About Foodborne Germs & Illnesses
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases; most of them are infections – caused by various bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Harmful chemicals and toxins can also contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness. As identified by the CDC, the top five pathogens that cause illnesses from food eaten in the U.S. are:
Other pathogens don’t cause as many illnesses, but they are more likely to lead to hospitalization when they do. Those pathogens include:
The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting
The surfaces and equipment in a kitchen may look sparkling clean but can still be teeming with viruses and bacteria. To ensure your kitchen is clean and free from pathogens, it’s essential to understand the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting.
Cleaning: The Process of Removing Debris & Germs
Cleaning involves removing visible dirt, crumbs, food residue, spills, and other debris from objects and surfaces and leaves things looking shiny and clean. Soap (or detergent) and water might be used in this process. However, general cleaners – such as soap and water, vinegar, conventional all-purpose cleaners, or essential oils – are not designed to eliminate pathogens that can cause an illness, nor are they registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Cleaning does not kill pathogens, but is the first step to a complete process of preventing foodborne illness.
Examples of cleaning in a kitchen include:
- Wiping down kitchen work surfaces like countertops, kitchen islands, tabletops, etc., with a wet cloth to clear off crumbs, spills, and other visible debris
- Scrubbing dishes, utensils, glasses, knives, pots, and pans with soap and hot water
- Wiping spills and splatters off the kitchen walls
Sanitizing: The Process of Reducing Germs
Sanitizing follows cleaning and helps to reduce the number of microorganisms (such as bacteria and viruses) to levels deemed safe by public health authorities. Sanitizing is an effective preventative practice since it inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and reduces the number of germs on a surface.
Some of the food-prep surfaces that should be sanitized include:
- Cutting boards
- Countertops, prep-tables, work surfaces
- Food-contact equipment (can openers, slicers, grinders, mixers, etc.)
- Dishes and utensils
- Refrigeration units
- Beverage and ice equipment
To sanitize food-contact surfaces, always use a food-safe solution to avoid chemical contamination. Vital Oxide is designated by NSF International as a “no-rinse required” food-contact surface sanitizer. This versatile multi-purpose solution can be used full-strength or diluted for multiple applications. Vital Oxide kills 99.999% of bacteria, including common foodborne pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, in less than 60 seconds.
Disinfecting: The Process of Killing Germs
To disinfect a surface means to completely eliminate pathogens and disease-causing microorganisms. The critical difference between sanitizing and disinfecting is that sanitizers reduce microorganisms on surfaces to a level considered safe by public health standards. On the other hand, a disinfectant, like Vital Oxide, kills nearly 100% of bacteria, viruses, and fungi on hard, non-porous surfaces. The standard is lower for sanitizers, which must reduce microorganisms on a surface by 99.9% within 30 seconds. To qualify as a disinfectant, the EPA requires that the solution reduces the levels of pathogens by 99.999% in five to ten minutes.
Some of the kitchen surfaces that should be disinfected include:
- Faucet and sink
Vital Oxide can be used to pre-clean surfaces before disinfecting under lightly soiled conditions. Clean and disinfect in two easy steps: First, spray and wipe Vital Oxide to clean, then spray and leave behind to disinfect. Just make sure that you’re applying enough of the solution to remain visibly wet for the proper contact time. In cases where more frequent disinfection of surfaces results in a possible buildup of dry disinfectant residue, a wipe down with a moist towel or microfiber cloth of surfaces that come into contact with clothing (chairs, benches, etc.) will prevent any possible discoloration of fabrics.
Five Steps to Effectively Clean & Sanitize or Disinfect
Your home kitchen deserves the same treatment as a food prep area in a restaurant. Here are the steps to follow to keep your kitchen clean and free of pathogens.
1. Prepare the Surface
Before you break out your cleaning supplies, brush off any loose debris or food particles off the surface (like a countertop) or item (like a plate), and dispose of them. You can use a paper towel or wet microfiber cloth to remove the debris and soak up any spills or wet messes.
2. Clean the Surface
Use a surface-safe cleaning solution to help dissolve any persistent food and residue, and dirt. Vital Oxide can be used in this pre-cleaning step. Unlike harsh conventional cleaners like bleach, Vital Oxide can be used on virtually every surface type, including wood, natural stone, stainless steel, concrete, glass, laminate, tile, and more.
3. Rinse the Surface (If Needed)
Rinse the surface with water to remove the residual cleaning solution. Rinsing is necessary because cleaning chemicals are not compatible with sanitizers and disinfectants. If they combine, the sanitizer won’t be able to do its job, or, worse, mixing chemicals can have disastrous effects. However, if you used Vital Oxide to clean, there is no need to rinse before the next step.
4. Sanitize or Disinfect the Surface with Vital Oxide
After thoroughly cleaning, spray or wipe (using a microfiber cloth, not a paper towel) the surface with Vital Oxide to sanitize or disinfect. For sanitizing food-contact surfaces, Vital Oxide can be diluted, 9 parts water to 1 part Vital Oxide. For disinfecting, Vital Oxide must always be applied full-strength.
5. Allow the Surface to Dry
Air-drying might seem trivial and time-consuming. However, this is an essential step of sanitizing and disinfecting. Typically, sanitizers require an average of 60 seconds of contact to kill germs on the surface, and disinfectants can take up to 10 minutes. Always read the product’s label before use to determine the appropriate drying time. You can read Vital Oxide’s entire label here.
At Vital Oxide, we’re proud to offer a revolutionary product that’s powerful enough to kill viruses and bacteria without harsh chemicals or alarming safety ratings. Follow us on Instagram (@vitaloxideofficial) for more great cleaning and disinfecting tips. If you have any questions, please Contact Us or Send Us a Message on Facebook. We're here to help.