Disinfecting Your Business: Just How Clean Is Clean?


During these uncertain times, restaurant owners, chefs, and other workers in the food service and dining industries are more concerned than ever about the cleanliness of their working environments. But just how clean is clean? Although one term tends to be used in exchange for another in common  usage, when it comes to maintaining professional standards for cleanliness, there is a measured difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting. Read on to find out more about the different levels of clean — and how to achieve them.  

Cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes three levels of clean, determined by whether or not the surface microbes (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) are killed off during the cleaning process, and what percentage of them are killed.  Here are the guidelines for each definition, established by the CDC:

  • Cleaning

A surface is clean when it is clear of debris and dirt. When  a detergent or soap and water is used to clean an area, it removes microbes, and in this way it reduces the number of bacteria and other microbes present, lowering the likelihood of spreading infection. However, it does not necessarily kill bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

  • Sanitizing

Sanitizing an area means that you have not just removed debris from the area, but that some of the microbes have been killed as well. In addition, when an area is sanitized, viruses can still remain on the surface.

  • Disinfecting

Chemicals such as EPA-registered disinfectants actually kill microbes on surfaces. When a surface is disinfected, 99.999% of bacteria, bacteria, fungi, and viral threats are killed. However, before you disinfect an area, clean the surface thoroughly first to remove all debris.

Hand washing

Regular, proper hand washing plays a huge part in maintaining the safety and cleanliness of a business in the food service industry. According to the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), you must wash your hands for twenty seconds with soap and water to ensure that your hands are clean.  Here is some more information to keep in mind for hand washing:

  • Soap and water for hand washing

The most effective way to wash your hands is to use soap and warm water, which removes  germs on the surface of the skin after rigorous hand washing for 20 seconds. Any kind of soap that produces a foam will work.

  • Alcohol-based sanitizers for hand washing

The CDC advises that when soap and warm water are not available, alcohol-based sanitizers, containing at least 60% alcohol, can be used. According to the CDC, to qualify as a sanitizer, the product or substance must be able to kill 99.999% of bacteria. Unlike disinfectants, however, sanitizers are not able to kill viruses. When alcohol-based sanitizers are not available for hand washing, non-alcohol-based sanitizers also work, but they are not as effective at killing microbes.

  • Effective hand-washing technique

When washing your hands, be sure to cover all areas, including palms, back of hands, between the fingers, and forearms. Scrub continuously for 20 seconds. You can use timing devices by singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, or use another song that lasts 20 seconds to make sure that you are washing your hands long enough to effectively clean your hands.

EPA-approved disinfectants

The EPA has put out a list of disinfectants that effectively work against COVID-19.  Keep in mind that the labels clearly show the directions, including how much time a product needs to be applied to a surface to properly disinfect. Most disinfectants must stay on the surface for at least 10 minutes before being rinsed off in order to thoroughly disinfect the surface.