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An Introduction to Sanitizers

Properly sanitized food surface areas are critical to the safety of all food service establishments. That’s because food service establishments are natural breeding grounds for bacteria, and if left unsanitized these bacteria can threaten public safety. To protect the public, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has enacted strict requirements regarding the use of effective sanitizers. With routine and spot inspections, state and local health officials monitor and enforce these standards. Vigilance is necessary to ensure that food service establishments remain free from harmful bacteria – and our food supply remains safe.

Sanitizing with chemical compounds is the most common and economical method of ensuring a safe and bacteria-free environment. Sanitizer test kits, which must be FDA approved, have the following characteristics: they kill 99% of harmful bacteria with a single application; are stable under myriad environmental conditions; and are low in toxicity. They must be safe for use on food and safe for use on food contact surfaces. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for the registration and approval for the above conditions.

Three primary chemical compounds are used as sanitizers in the food service industry: chlorine-based cleaners, quaternary ammonium and iodine sanitizers.

Chlorine is the most commonly used chemical sanitizer agent, since it is highly effective and relatively inexpensive. Some typical chlorine compounds are liquid chlorine, hypochlorites, inorganic chloramines and organic chloramines. These broad spectrum germicides attack microbial membranes, oxidize cellular protein, and inhibit the cellular enzymes involved in glucose metabolism.

Quaternary ammonium compounds, also known as Quats or QACs, are positively charged ions that are naturally attracted to negatively charged materials such as bacterial proteins. They are effective against bacteria, yeasts, mold and viruses. Quats are surfactants and possess some detergency, so they are less affected by light soil than other sanitizers. They are non-corrosive, do not act as a skin irritant and are also very stable.

Iodine’s history as a sanitizer dates back to the 1800s. Used with a surfactant as a carrier, iodine sanitizers act against bacteria, viruses, yeasts, molds, fungi, and protozoans. The downside to iodine sanitizers – also called iodophors – is that they are costly, and can stain some surfaces, especially plastics.

Food industry workers must not only use the proper, federally approved sanitizing agents, they must use these sanitizers at proper concentrations and strengths. The only way to determine this is through routine testing with precise, accurate testing products. Micro Essential Laboratory, a trusted worldwide leader in test kits since 1934, offers a variety of sanitizer test kits for chlorine, iodine and quaternary ammonium compounds. Our Hydrion Sanitizer Test Kits, Chlorine Test Kits, Quaternary Tests, and Iodine Tests, all measure effective sanitizer levels and ensure food safety as required by Federal, State, and Local Health departments.