Published on July 10, 2023

Sanitizer Miniseries: Surface Sanitizing

Written by Adam Serfas

Sanitizer Miniseries: Surface Sanitizing

Sanitizing plays an extremely important role in keeping food-safe and hygiene-sensitive facilities clean and up-to-code. So important that we thought we’d dedicate a miniseries to it on the blog. To kick things off, we’ll begin with surface sanitizer. In part two, we’ll focus on hand sanitizing, and in part three of our series, we’ll break down footwear sanitizing. For now, we turn our attention to surface sanitizing—what you need to know to choose the right product for your facility and how to use it correctly once you’ve got it. 

The Difference Between Cleaning And Sanitizing 

Whereas cleaning removes visible dirt, debris, and stains from a surface, sanitizing goes a step further to reduce the germs we cannot see. Both processes are essential in food-safe and hygiene-sensitive environments, and cleaning must always be done before sanitizing. 

Defining Surface Sanitizers 

If you’ve ever shopped for sanitizer, you’ll quickly find that there are sanitizers specially tailored to different uses. Any sanitizer worth buying is going to clarify its intended use in the name or description. It should say whether it’s intended for use on hands, footwear, or surfaces (which encompasses most other things—counters, conveyors, equipment, tools, floors, etc.). 

How To Know If A Surface Sanitizer Fits Industry Regulatory Requirements 

Food-safe and hygiene-sensitive environments require the use of sanitizers that have been reviewed and certified as being effective and safe for use in those settings. Food-grade for food-safe sanitizers, for instance, have been tested and certified as safe for use in direct or indirect food contact areas. These sanitizers are made with chlorine, peroxyacetic acid, iodine, and quaternary ammonium, or “quats.” The sanitizer label or online product listing will generally clearly state that a sanitizer is food-safe and should include an EPA registration number to verify that fact, as well as an efficacy statement listing the organisms the product is labeled to treat. Beyond the EPA registration, many sanitizers are also NSF, Kosher, Pareve, and Halal certified. All of the RSQP sanitizers meet these requirements. 

The Difference Between Quat And Quat-Free Sanitizers 

Quat vs. Quat-Free is the next big differentiator among sanitizers. 

Quat is the common name for quaternary ammonium chloride compounds. The compounds contain four organic groups, hence the “quat” name. Sanitizers with quat as an active ingredient boast strong cleaning power without, say, the toxicity and corrosive nature of a bleach. They are often preferred due to the fact that they are odorless, non-staining, and most often, have a long shelf life. 

Quat-free sanitizers are generally also alcohol-based cleaners. The big difference is what is left over once the alcohol evaporates after use. With quat sanitizers, the alcohol in the solution will eventually evaporate, but it will leave behind the quaternary ammonia as a residual that will continue germicidal degradation on the surface. In a household setting, eventually, the quat would break down and evaporate. In a food processing environment, that’s not likely to happen as surfaces are generally sanitized multiple times throughout the day. Quat-free sanitizers, on the other hand, leave behind no residual. 

For more on this topic and whether residuals left behind are generally going to be a big deal in your industry, check out our blog post on all things quat vs. quat-free here

Sanitizing Sprays vs. Wipes 

Here at RSQP, we carry both sanitizing sprays and wipes, and many facilities will stock both for different uses. Some people find wipes to be more efficient, as they are ready-to-go, right out of the container for quick sanitizing needs. In some cases, a wipe can also be preferred over a cloth and spray, as when a cloth gets over-used, the germs it’s meant to reduce can be carried over from one surface to another. For those who do prefer to keep wipes on hand, it’s important to confirm that your wipes will not leave any lint behind—especially if used in a food-safe setting where anything left can adulterate the product. All of the wipes we carry at RSQP are lintless and safe for use on food-contact surfaces. 

Knowing Your Kill Claims 

Once you’ve selected sanitizers for your facility, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the kill claims of your sanitizer. It’s a common misperception that as soon as you sanitize a surface, the germs are killed. In reality, there’s a kill time for each sanitizer, which should be listed on the product or within the product spec sheets. For instance, if a listed kill time for a sanitizing wipe is 60 seconds, you need to wait at least that long after using the wipes on a surface to achieve the kill claims for the sanitizer. 

When In Doubt, Ask Your Distributor 

If you are not sure if a certain sanitizer is right for your facility or have questions about using a sanitizer, you can always ask your distributor. Here at RSQP, we’ve helped countless customers find the right sanitizing solution. If you have questions, feel free to contact us here, and a member of our team will be in touch to help.