This Month’s Food Safety Tip: Sanitizers and Proper Levels

A key part of providing safe food is properly sanitizing surfaces in your operation. These are not the most exciting subjects in any food operation, but not paying attention to them can result in a yellow DoH placard, allow excessive bacteria grow, or even cause chemical poisoning.

What do sanitizers do? They do not sterilize a surface but do reduce the level of pathogenic bacteria to safe levels. There are 3 common sanitizers – Chlorine, Quat and Hot water. Levels of strength are measured as Parts per Million – PPM. Knowing each types use and proper testing is vital. The uses and critical levels should be taught to your staff as well.

For Chlorine and Quats, you need test strips Some chemical suppliers supply them for free, and they are available for sale as well. The basic procedure is to take a strip or tear off a few inches of the tester strip, dip it into the solution for about 10 seconds, then match the strips color to the color chart. PPMs that are too low results in surfaces that are not properly sanitized, too strong will leave excessive residue on surfaces, which could poison your guests, which is never a good thing.

Chlorine is found in your ware washing machine if is a lo-temp machine. Chlorine, better known as Bleach, can be used in Sani-buckets. These should test in the 50-100 range. Dish machines automatically meter the proper amount of Chlorine. If not, call for service and start using a 3 compartment sink for washing. For Sani-buckets, a measured dispenser is unusual, so this is usually mixed by hand. I have seen too many facilities let the staff free-pour the bleach and water, resulting in a sanitizer that can be waaaay too strong. Experiment with your bleach and buckets to create a ‘recipe’. Make marks on the buckets or cups, then print and post signs of the proper measurements.

Quats are usually used in 3 compartment sinks and sani-buckets. QAC should test at 200PPM, and QUAT-146 has a range of 150-400PPM. Recommended water temp is usually tap water. Hot water breaks down the Quats quicker. Quats usually have a dispenser, but if not, create a recipe for this as well.

Hot water is a sanitizer that is common in dish machines. Temps need to be a least 160 at the manifold. We are all trained to look at the dial or display to see 180. These gauges are notoriously inaccurate, so using a thermo strip (taped onto a clean and dry metal pan) or a waterproof hi-temp recording thermometer are more accurate. Surface temps of over 160 act as the Sanitizer. If the temperature is under 160, set up a 3 compartment sink for washing.

When should testing be done? Unfortunately, too many restaurants never test their sanitizers, and find out they have improper sanitizer levels when the DoH inspector makes a test!! I recommend to test machines, sinks and buckets once per meal period. Keeping a log of test results is suggested as well. Who should be doing the testing? I suggest to train your dishroom staff. This way they will be aware of what critical points need to be met in their ‘offices’. The PIC needs to make sure these tests are done, and need to be informed when levels are incorrect.

As always, all chemicals and measuring cups need to be kept stored away from any foods or food areas.

To learn more detail about Food Safety procedures, or to set up an independent discounted audit of your facility, please contact Peter Bellisario of Peter B Food Safety Audits at  or (808)491-7766. Check out my new website –



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