In the food service industry, if you have walked into a kitchen where food is prepared for public consumption, then you have likely seen at least one three-compartment sink. These typically stainless steel sinks are wide pieces of equipment with drain boards mounted on each end and three individual sinks side-by-side in the middle. You may think that the three sinks are simply there to give more room for washing dirty dishes, but food safety standards require that the three compartments be used for separate purposes. Knowing the proper procedure will help you run a safe kitchen operation.
Clean Before Use
When using the three-compartment sink for washing dishes you should always clean and sanitize the sink properly prior to each use. It may have been used to thaw raw meats or wash dirty vegetables during prep prior to its intended use, so to minimize any chance of cross-contamination you must clean it thoroughly. Cleaning the three-compartment sink is a simple process. Using hot water, you should rinse out each sink and use a commercial sanitizing agent designed for use in a food prep area to wash all the surfaces. This includes all three sinks and the drain boards. Clean the handles on the water faucets, too. Rinse the entire sink with clean water and let it drain without drying. Now the sink is ready for washing.
Assuming your dirty dishes will be loaded from the left side of the sink on the drain board mounted left of the far left compartment, this first sink will be your wash compartment. This sink is filled with hot soapy water for actually washing the dirty dishes. The water should be at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit, but not hot enough to scald your hands. The soap you use may vary, but it is recommended that you use one designed for heavy-duty dish washing. You will submerge the dishes in the water and scrub with scouring pads, sponges or other items designed to clean dishes.
The middle compartment on a three-compartment sink is always the rinse sink. The rinsing area also contains hot water at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It should not have any other substance in it. Immerse the washed dishes in the rinse sink for a few moments and allow all of the soap or loose debris to wash off and then pull them out of the water and move them to the third compartment. The water in the rinse sink may begin to get cloudy after several dishes have been washed. Do not let the rinse sink get too dirty and replace the water with clear, hot water when necessary.
The third sink in the three-compartment sink is the sanitizer compartment. Despite the hand washing and rinsing you have already done, this extra step ensures no bacteria survives on the dishes or utensils, which may make diners ill. The sanitizer sink is filled with water around 75 degrees Fahrenheit and it contains 50 parts per million of chlorine or the recommended amount of other commercial dish sanitizers. There are many on the market. You can also buy testing kits to make sure your levels are correct. Washed and rinsed items should remain submerged in the sanitizer sink for one minute before being removed. They should be air dried on the attached drain board and never wiped down with a towel. Once dry they are ready for use again.