Hygiene in the food industry

Hygiene in the food industry

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Hygienic practices are an essential aspect of ensuring that food is safe and suitable for consumption and of the quality expected or demanded by the purchaser.

The Food Standards Code (Standard 3.2.2, section 19) requires food businesses of all types to ensure that their premises, equipment, utensils etc. are cleaned and sanitised, as appropriate for the type of food contact.

Cleaning & sanitising explained

Cleaning and sanitising is usually a two-step process: cleaning first, followed by sanitising. A surface needs to be thoroughly cleaned before it is sanitised because sanitising is not effective on an unclean surface.

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The Food Standards Code requires food premises to be maintained to a level of cleanliness where there is no accumulation of food waste, dirt or other visible matter; this is based on the definition of ‘clean’: ‘clean to touch and free of extraneous visible matter and objectionable odour’ [Food Standard 3.1.1]
Cleaning uses detergent and physical action to remove visible matter (e.g., dust, dirt, grease). It can also result in the simultaneous removal of microorganisms, but without necessarily destroying them. Ineffective cleaning can also spread microorganisms.


An additional step of sanitising is also required for eating and drinking utensils and food contact surfaces if there is a likelihood that they will cause food contamination. This means the application of ‘heat or chemicals, heat and chemicals, or other processes’ to reduce the number of microorganisms so that the surface or utensil does not compromise the safety or quality of the food with which it may come into contact or permit the transmission of infectious disease. (Most non-food contact surfaces are required to be clean only.)

Cleaning and sanitising products for food use

Cleaning and sanitising are usually separate activities, achieved using separate products. However, some products both clean and sanitise.

Suitable cleaning and sanitising products and procedures are essential in making sure that food contact surfaces and utensils are clean and sanitary. It is also essential that these products do not themselves make food unsafe or unsuitable for consumption.

The chemical ingredients used in cleaning and sanitising products fall under the definition of contaminants. However, the presence of a contaminant does not automatically render food unsuitable as the Food Standards Code permits certain levels of some contaminants. Indeed, Food Standard 1.1.1—10(11) effectively allows the presence of residues of cleaners and sanitisers as long as they will not cause bodily harm, distress or discomfort. While this section of the Food Standards Code is primarily aimed at packaging materials, it could also apply to residues of cleaners/sanitisers that may be on surfaces on which food is manufactured, prepared or served.

What is a FitForFood cleaning or sanitising product?

There are two key aspects of a cleaner or sanitiser that is suitable for food contact applications:

  • Effective cleaning and/or sanitising. In other words, it needs to be ‘fit for purpose’. It must effectively clean and/or sanitise food preparation surfaces, equipment, utensils, etc., so that these are in a clean and/or sanitary condition. This means free from physical contaminants and levels of microorganisms that could render food unsafe.
  • No residue that could render the food unsafe or unsuitable. In other words, the product will not result in the transfer of any material to the food that would make it unsuitable for consumption.

The Food Standards Code does not specify how effective cleaning and sanitising is to be achieved. Therefore, it is up to individual food businesses to decide how they will achieve effective hygiene to ensure that their food products do not become unsafe or unsuitable.

Suppliers of cleaners/sanitisers to food businesses need to ensure that the products they provide for food applications are suitable and do not compromise food safety. Suppliers must effectively communicate where and how their products should be used; according to Australian Consumer Law, it is unlawful for a business to make false or misleading claims about goods or services.

Victoria’s Department of Health has produced a helpful video on cleaning and sanitising in the food industry.

The role of Food Safety Auditors

Food Safety Auditors/Officers, or Environmental Health Officers, play an essential role in food safety.

They conduct food safety audits and, if necessary, regulatory inspections at food premises to identify, evaluate and control food safety hazards. While education is usually the first course of action, sometimes enforcement may be necessary to improve compliance and safety. Sampling/testing can be applied to a final food product, at a specific point in the manufacturing process or to check that adequate food handling controls are in place during food preparation.

Food businesses may be asked for evidence that the cleaning and sanitising products they are using are effective and appropriate for how they are being used. If a cleaning/sanitising protocol is found to be acceptable by one jurisdiction it is likely to also be acceptable to others, given that one goal of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 (Section 3d) is consistent food safety requirements and their interpretation across Australia.

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