One of the most common misconceptions about organic plants surrounds where you can and can’t use Quat compounds. Organic food production is a fast-growing market, netting nearly 48 billion dollars in sales in the U.S. alone in 2019 according to an industry survey. While this market presents attractive features and increased trust in the food supply in key consumer demographics, it also represents a challenge to producers and processors. Additional regulations can make it more challenging to maintain a clean and microbiologically safe food processing facility.

Who sets organic regulations?

One of the more confusing aspects of organic production is understanding who sets the rules for organic production. Typically, USDA and FDA-regulated and inspected facilities have straightforward policies to follow. However, for a company to produce organic food, it must follow the USDA organic guidelines and be certified by a state or other private certification companies, like Oregon Tilth. Most of the recommendations and guidelines are shared between the bodies. Always check with your certifying body for their specific recommendations and guidelines for your facility and location.

How does organic certification affect cleaning and sanitizing?

The largest challenge production facilities processing organically certified food face is selecting the correct chemistry for cleaning and sanitation. Just as organic production must be selective in what chemistries it uses to control pests; plants must be selective in what chemistry it uses to sanitize food contact surfaces. Selecting a product that can contact food is key. The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) provides an approved list of chemistries that can contact food during production. It is important to note, for the NOP list to apply, the chemistry has to come in contact with organic food without needing an intervening rinse step.
There is never a one-size-fits-all cleaning program or recommendation for processing facilities. Each processing facility finds and tweaks a best-practice program and set of procedures that work best for that location.

Quat isn’t on the NOP list, can it still be used?

Even if you if don’t see the chemistry you want to use on the NOP list, in most cases, you can still use the product as long as you follow specific application methods and pay attention on what surface it is used. Non-organic chemistries like quaternary ammonium or EDTA can be used during sanitation, but they must be rinsed with potable water to remove all unapproved residue from the surface. Both cleaners and disinfectants require potable water rinses to fully remove chemical residues and soils — a requirement that is the same for both organic and non-organic processing surfaces.

You can use chemistries that are not approved for food contact without a rinse for environmental cleaning and sanitation if there is no danger of the product contacting food. Some processing environments find it advantageous to use a Quat-based compound for environmental sanitation or entryway control, while utilizing PAA or a bleach-based sanitizer on the food contact surfaces.

Removing biofilm and killing harmful pathogens

Quat-containing compounds like Sterilex’s biofilm removing PerQuat chemistry can be used per labeled instructions in almost all organic processing environments. This expands the tools available for plants as they continue to battle complex microbial issues to keep the food supply safe and secure.