Cleaning: A Powerful Prerequisite For Pathogen Reduction

Cleaning A Powerful Prerequisite for Pathogen Reduction Cleaning A Powerful Prerequisite for Pathogen Reduction
Carine Nkemngong
Sr. Scientist-Food Safety Expert
Sep 12, 2022

Have you thought of that one step you could miss during sanitation that may ruin your efforts? If missed or not properly executed, it could interfere with active ingredients which are relied on to reduce microbial loads on food and nonfood contact surfaces. The interference could result from organic or inorganic “culprits” generally referred to as dirt or soil by microbiology nerds. I believe your guess is as good as mine at this point. The very important step that could null a sanitation or disinfection effort is cleaning.


The EPA describes cleaning products as those with claims for removing debris, dirt and related interfering substances. Products intended for cleaning only may not carry any antimicrobial claims1. These include but may not be limited to degreasers, stain removers and detergents among others. Essentially, cleaners prepare a surface for proper sanitization or disinfection by getting rid of interfering substances. Interfering substances could bind to active ingredients such as peracetic acid, chlorine or peroxide; reducing the active concentration in contact with targeted microorganisms. Specifically, the interference from organic matter could reduce the concentration of a chlorine solution from 60 parts per million (ppm) to 21 ppm within one minute of exposure2. This suggests that the potential for unwanted microorganisms to be destroyed by the chlorine solution on a contaminated surface can be significantly reduced by dirt and debris. Furthermore, attempting to sanitize or disinfect a surface with a lower than recommended active ingredient concentration may at its best cause sub-lethal injuries on microorganisms. When conditions become favorable, sub-lethally injured microorganisms may recover, grow and continue to present food safety risks. Even with the use of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- registered sanitizers or disinfectants,  failing to properly clean may defeat the essence of using an antimicrobial.


While stand-alone cleaners remain in active use, cleaner-sanitizers, cleaner-disinfectants or cleaner-sanitizer-disinfectants are also available for use. Notice that the nomenclature of the later list of antimicrobials includes “cleaner”. This is because cleaning plays a very crucial role in the sanitation or disinfection of food contact and nonfood contact surfaces. To further substantiate the relevance of cleaning for the reduction of microorganisms, use instructions for most if not all antimicrobials highlight cleaning as a needful prerequisite for proper sanitation or disinfection. Cleaning forms the bedrock of successful sanitization or disinfection and should not be minimized.



  1. US Environmental Protection Agency. Determining If a Cleaning Product Is a Pesticide Under FIFRA. EPA, 2022. Accessed September 7, 2022
  2.  Palma-Salgado S, Pearltein AJ, Luo Y et al. Whole-head washing, prior to cutting, provides sanitization advantages for fresh-cut Iceberg lettuce (Latuca sativa L.). International Journal of Food Micro. 2014.