Sanitation Basics in the Food Industry

Man washing machines at a factory

Today I am writing an introduction to cleaning and sanitizing procedures. Twenty years ago, I believed most spoilage issues and contamination of food were due to poor cleaning and sanitizing. The food manufacturing environment is much more complex now with the concern of allergen cross-contact and the hunt for Listeria in growth niches. Here is a foundation on which to build your cleaning and sanitizing program.

What is soil?

Soil is very simply matter out of place. A lubricant on a gear is in the right place. If you get the lubricant on a food contact surface, like a conveyor belt, the lubricant has soiled the surface. When production shuts down, every particle of food on the equipment and floor is soil, and it is the job of the sanitation crew to remove the food, including any surface film from fat, protein, carbohydrate or mineral build-up. When soil is removed, the process is cleaning.

It is not possible or desirable to remove everything on a surface, down to the smallest bacterium or virus. If the surface is free of every living cell, the surface would be sterile. This is not a realistic goal in the food industry. At the microscopic level, cells adhere to the surface of the equipment and remain after cleaning. THIS IS NORMAL. The purpose of sanitizing is to kill cells which remain after cleaning. In this way, you see that it is not possible to clean and sanitize at the same time. Neither the work of cleaning nor the work of sanitizing would be efficient. It is a waste of resources to clean and sanitize in one step.

The sanitation crew members are your most valuable employees.

The work of sanitation starts your day. Production follows sanitation. Production does not start until sanitation has done their job correctly and completely. Some companies run sanitation during business hours, to emphasize that the work of sanitation parallels the work of upper management. Sanitation crews have a lot of turnover and require extensive training and monitoring. The crew must be supplied with the resources they need to do the job right. Sanitation crew members should earn some of the highest wages among a company’s workers.

There are four crucial factors for successful cleaning and sanitizing.

For successful cleaning and sanitizing, the factors are time, temperature, concentration, and energy. In general, the more, the better. However, you will use EPA-registered cleaning or sanitizing chemicals and follow the directions from the chemical supply company. It makes sense that cleaning at a higher temperature is better, but running the equipment at a higher temperature may cause damage, and workers cannot be exposed to excessive temperatures. With concentration, more is not better after a certain point. Using 5% bleach is not recommended due to its corrosive property. Energy can be supplied by manual scrubbing or by turbulence within equipment.

What are clean-in-place (CIP) and clean-out-of-place (COP) procedures?

CIP systems for cleaning are installed when a continuous loop of equipment, pumps, and pipes can be developed. CIP systems are designed with your chemical supply company to run at much higher temperatures, concentrations, and turbulence than can be achieved in a tank. COP cleaning can be done in an open tank with recirculating solution in which the disassembled parts sit, or COP cleaning can be done with manual scrubbing of parts in a bucket or tank.

With the concepts described here, I hope you can build a successful cleaning and sanitizing program. Other blog posts here at ConnectFood elaborate on the topic of cleaning and sanitizing.

The search for forms and checklists can be overwhelming, and the ConnectFood website has free resources. The folks at ConnectFood are here to help! Contact us.

Dr. Kathy Knutson has food safety expertise in microbiology, hazard analysis, and risk assessment. As a recovering academic, she resides in Green Bay home-of-the-Packers, Wisconsin with her brilliant husband and two handsome sons. Learn more about her consulting services at

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