Food Safety

Choosing the right cleaning and sanitizing products

Wayne Du, On-Farm Food Safety Specialist, OMAF & MRA

Food safety programs are becoming a requirement of doing business in Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF) and the Ministry of Rural Affairs (MRA) are here to help you keep up to date on the latest food safety practices. An effective food safety program helps you meet your buyer requirements, expand your market opportunity and continue to keep Ontario’s food safe.

Cleaning and sanitizing are critical steps in ensuring the food you produce is safe. If done improperly food can be contaminated. All surfaces that may contact the food product directly or indirectly, such as utensils, knives, tables, cutting boards, conveyor belts, bins, hands, aprons, floors, walls and many others must be properly cleaned and sanitized. Cleaning and sanitizing are two different processes and achieve different outcomes, although the terms are often used interchangeably. Cleaning is a process to remove visible dirt, organic matters (e.g. organic soil), chemical residues and microorganisms from surfaces or objects. Cleaning doesn’t kill those microorganisms but only removes them or lower their numbers.  Sanitizing is a process where clean surfaces or objects undergo a treatment that reduces or kills microorganisms to a safe level.  Cleaning and sanitizing often go hand in hand. Sanitizing won’t work effectively without a thorough cleaning first.

Good cleaning and sanitizing practices start with the right cleaning and sanitizing products.

  •  Ensure products are approved for the intended use in Canada. Products used should remove dirt and kill microorganisms but not contaminate food.  Ask your suppliers for approved and appropriate cleaning and sanitizing products, or refer to the “Reference Listing of Accepted Construction Materials and packaging materials and Non-Food Chemical Products” from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (Search> reference listing of accepted materials)
  • Select the right product for the right job. Not all sanitizers work the same. Here are some examples.

Table 1a.  Examples of sanitizers for common equipment and surfaces – Characteristics

Chemical Advantages Disadvantages
  • Kill most microorganisms
  • Effective at low temperature
  • Inexpensive
  • Corrode metal and weaken rubber
  • Unstable at high temperature
  • Not effective with organic matters
Quats (Quaternary Ammonium Compounds)
  • Non corrosive
  • Residual activity if not rinsed
  • Less affected by organic materials
  • Ineffective for certain microorganisms
  • Inactivated by most detergents
  • May be inactivated by hard water
  • Kill most microorganisms
  • Less affected by organic materials
  • Colour indicates activity
  • May stain plastic and porous materials
  • Inactivated above 49 ºC

Table 1b.  Examples of sanitizers for common equipment and surfaces – Rates

Chemical Rates for use (ppm)
Submerged in Solution In spray bottle
Chlorine 100 200
Quats (Quaternary Ammonium Compounds) 200 200-400(May need final rinse–refer to label)
Iodine 25 20-50(Follow label)
  • It is important to select the products that are safe for use on your surface or equipment. If the products cause the surface or equipment that is being cleaned and sanitized to deteriorate, it will be much more difficult to keep them clean.  Choose products that are effective and get the job done, but cause no or minimum damage to your equipment or facility.
  • Different surface materials have different reactions to different cleaners and sanitizers. For example, some products such as caustic alkaline or acidic cleaners may be effective in removing dirt and food residues but they can also be corrosive to softer metals such as aluminum, coppers or lower grades of steel. The best source for product use information is the manufacturer’s label.

Factors such as product unique attributes (e.g. odour and colour), storage and mixing requirements for water pH, water hardness and temperature, presence of organic matters, cost and even environmental impact should be considered when choosing the right product as these factors can also affect the effectiveness of the products and consequently food safety and quality.

For further information on effective cleaning and sanitizing procedures see

Food safety is everyone’s responsibility. Make food safety training your priority! To attend one of our free online workshops on Cleaning and Sanitizing and other important food safety topics, visit us at: or call: 1-877-424-1300. Food safety practices keep agri-food businesses competitive, productive and sustainable.

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