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Test Strips and Sanitizers: A Complete Buying Guide

Are Test Strips Required, and Why?

Commercial sanitizers and test strips are required by health department regulations, and in Colorado those are the Colorado Retail Food Establishment Rules and Regulations.  Why do you need Test Strips and Sanitizers: A Complete Buying Guidethem?  Because test strips tell you if the chemical sanitizing solution is the required concentration.  Section 4-402 reads:

“A test kit or other device that accurately measures the concentration in parts per million (mg/L) of the sanitizing solution shall be available and used.”

What is Sanitization and Why is it Important?

Good questions, and I’m glad you asked!  Here is the definition from Section 1-202:

“Sanitization means the application of cumulative heat or chemicals on cleaned food-contact surfaces that, when evaluated for efficacy, is sufficient to yield a reduction 5 logs, which is equal to a 99.999% reduction, of representative disease microorganisms of public health importance.”

Simply put, if you apply either sufficient heat, or sufficient chemical sanitizer, then nasty microbes that can make you sick are reduced by 99.999%.  That protects you and your customers, and it is important.  The regulations define how much is sufficient, and I discuss that next.

Test Strips and Sanitizers: A Complete Buying Guide

Types of Chemical Sanitizers

The three most common chemical sanitizers are chlorine-based, quaternary ammonia (QA), and iodine- based.  The required concentration ranges are below:

  • Chlorine-based (available chlorine as hypochlorite) | Between 50 ppm and 200 ppm
  • Quaternary ammonia (QA) | Between 100 ppm and 400 ppm
  • Iodine-based (available iodine) | Between 12.5 ppm and 25 ppm

How Do You Use Test Strips and How Often?

Chlorine-based sanitizers:  Dip the strip into the sanitizing solution, then immediately remove and compare to the color chart.  If it reads between 50 ppm and 200 ppm, then the concentration is fine.

Quaternary ammonia (QA) sanitizers:  Dip the strip into the sanitizing solution for 10 seconds, then remove and compare to the color chart.  If it reads between 100 ppm and 400 ppm, then the concentration is fine.

Iodine-based sanitizers:  Dip the strip into the sanitizing solution for 60 seconds, then remove and compare to the color chart.  If it reads between 12.5 ppm and 25 ppm, then the concentration is fine.

If the concentration is either too low or too high, either add sanitizer or dilute as needed in order to achieve the required concentration.Test Strips and Sanitizers: A Complete Buying Guide

How often do you need to check the concentration?  The Colorado regulation does not specify.  But you need to check often enough to ensure the proper concentration at all times.  A minimum of twice a day is my recommendation.

If you have a high temperature dish machine in Colorado, you must provide a minimum temperature of 160 F on the surface of utensils/equipment to ensure that sanitizing has actually occurred.  Since dish machine gauges can be inaccurate, purchase and regularly use hot water test labels.

Fryer oil and pH test strips are not required by the Colorado regulations.

Remember This!

  1. Test chemical sanitizers in all locations.  This includes the buckets for your wiping cloths, the 3-compartment sink, and the low temperature dish machine.
  2. Inspectors will often ask for your test strips and have you test the sanitizing solution, or they will test it themselves. Asking you to provide the strips will show them if you keep them readily available…a manager scrambling to find them is a bad sign!  Secondly, watching you do the test will show them if you know how, so be prepared.
  3. The requirement for test strips is non-critical, and if you violate it, it is marked as an 11C violation on the inspection form. But have the strips, use them, make sure your staff knows how to use them, and keep all your sanitizing solutions at the proper concentration.

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3 Responses to Test Strips and Sanitizers: A Complete Buying Guide

  1. Matt October 11, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Great guide. Should low temperature dishwashers be tested to make sure that the temperature is high enough just like high temp dishwashers are? I think the regulation is 120 F or something like that.

  2. Lance April 3, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Hello Jim

    Do they make a Sanitizer test that is in gauge form
    alot like a batterie tester.
    Or do they have to see the result of the strip every time…

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