Food safety

3 compartment sink rules - Which activity is not allowed?

A three-compartment sink is an efficient tool used in the food industry for proper cleaning and sanitizing dishes, ...

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  • A three-compartment sink is an efficient tool used in the food industry for proper cleaning and sanitizing dishes, utensils, and equipment.
  • The compartments of a three-compartment sink are used for washing, rinsing, and sanitizing.
  • The correct order of tasks for washing dishes in a three-compartment sink must be strictly followed to ensure effectiveness and efficiency.

Cleaning and sanitizing equipment and utensils in a commercial kitchen are important food hygiene operations and not random tasks that can be done without any type of organized system. To become effective, they have to be done the correct way all the time. This rule has to be equally applied to all kitchen tools whether big or small.

An ergonomic and effective solution to this is the use of a 3 compartment sink. This tool was made to make the process of cleaning and sanitizing more organized and the risk of cross-contamination is reduced. When it comes to using a three-compartment sink, the key thing is to know the importance of the proper sequence of activities involved and which activity is not allowed in a 3 compartment sink.

The Food and Drug Administration has provided a set of health guidelines and basic requirements when it comes to using a three-compartment sink under the Food Code of 2017. Accuracy and consistency are invaluable elements when it comes to sanitizing and cleaning. Food handlers cannot neglect any step, or the whole process cycle will be rendered ineffective. 

The principle of a three-compartment sink, do's and don'ts, and how can proper cleaning save your customers - learn all about these topics and more from this article.

when washing tableware in a three compartment sink


What are the 3 compartments of a sink?

As recommended by food safety agencies, the 3 compartments of a sink consist of one compartment for washing, rinsing, and sanitizing. The whole setup of a 3 compartment sink was designed to prevent cross-contamination among the utensils and equipment being cleaned. All food establishments must have a dedicated sink used for dishwashing.

Even food trucks must have a dishwashing sink. A 3 compartment sink for the food truck may sometimes be improvised when compared with commercial-scale types. Sometimes, food trucks use a small 3 compartment sink depending on the size of the truck and the needed accommodation of dishes. Alternatively, you may also use a portable 3 compartment sink for convenience.

All three compartments of the specified type of sink shall not be used for handwashing or cleaning food, washing towel cloths, or thawing. The sink must be dedicated to the process of cleaning and sanitizing equipment and utensils. If the three-compartment sink was used for any of the mentioned practices, all compartments must be adequately cleaned and sanitized before resuming their intended purpose.


What are the 3 compartments of a commercial sink used for?

A 3 compartment sink is FDA-recommended, high-efficiency equipment for food establishments without a commercial dishwasher. In addition, not all equipment and utensils are compatible with a commercial dishwasher in terms of their component material and size. A recommended commercial 3 compartment sink must be large enough to accommodate oversized pots and portable machines. Most food safety agencies and health department recommend deep-drawn sinks, rounded corners, stainless steel legs with cross bracing for support, and with enough space in between the previous and following compartments.

Each compartment of the recommended sink must be labeled according to its intended use. Remember that cleaning and sanitizing processes can only become effective if performed in the correct order. The correct order of a three-compartment sink is as follows

  • Sink 1 WASHING
  • Sink 2 RINSING

Skipping any of these steps may render the whole cleaning process ineffective and ultimately increase the risk of causing foodborne illnesses. For example, skipping the washing process can leave some food debris on the plates which can sometimes be too hard to remove during rinsing. The sanitation process will not be able to effectively remove this excess food debris and therefore leave the dishes prone to contamination.

In addition to the proper labeling and arrangement of the deep sink compartments, the whole unit must be made out of stainless steel sink which can withstand corrosion from cleaning and sanitizing agents for public health control. The sink must also be easy to disassemble and cleaned in terms of design and texture.


FoodDocs food safety system


What is the function of a 3 compartment sink?

A 3 compartment kitchen sink is a piece of manual equipment used for cleaning and sanitizing dishes, utensils, and equipment used in the kitchen. The premise of using the 3 compartment sink systems serves as the basis for more advanced dishwasher cycles. The only difference is, that in a 3 compartment sink, the food handler performs all the cleaning tasks manually. It is a great alternative option for restaurant equipment.

Ideally, a 3 compartment dish sink must be able to eliminate the risk of spreading foodborne illnesses from leftover food. Pathogens such as bacteria and viruses can grow on leftover food which has already been exposed to the environment and potentially cause the spread of foodborne illness if left uncleaned.
Each section of a three-compartment sink has its own rules and requirements that must be followed to ensure effectiveness. 
  • The first section of this type of sink is used for washing and cleaning. It must be equipped with soap (or supplied with soapy water), a degreaser, and an abrasive brush. This sink is mainly used to remove the residual foods on dishes and equipment as well as stains and oils. When washing tableware in a three-compartment sink the water temperature should be at least 110°F (43°C). 
  • The second compartment in a three-compartment sink is for rinsing any residual soap on the dishes and equipment. This compartment must have a separate water supply. No chemical or sanitizer must be used in this section. The second compartment in a 3 compartment dishwashing sink should be filled with warm water as well.
  • The third compartment in a three-compartment sink is for the sanitation process. The sink is filled with the diluted sanitizing solution with water at the proper temperatures for use. Dishes and equipment are required to be soaked or be in contact with the sanitizing solution for a certain amount of time for the disinfection process.

Preparatory and post-operational steps must also be noted before and after using the 3 compartment sink, respectively. Before washing, dishes must be scraped of large food debris to facilitate the next process. After sanitizing, dishes must be properly air-dried before being used for service. The 3 compartment sink faucet must be regularly maintained for proper use.


Can you prep food in a three-compartment sink?

Generally, food handlers are discouraged to prepare food in a three-compartment concession sink dedicated to cleaning and sanitizing utensils and equipment. In case your team needs to use the sink for preparing food prior to the cooking process, it must be emptied first and properly cleaned and sanitized before and after use. While being used for preparing food, your team cannot use the other sinks for cleaning and sanitizing. 


Can you wash vegetables in a 3 compartment sink?

Vegetables and other raw foods such as raw meat can only be washed on a 3 compartment sink setup if there are currently no dishes or equipment being washed. The washed and clean produce must also not be placed on the sink surface or any other food contact surfaces near the washing area. After using for washing vegetables and other food products, the sink must then be cleaned and sanitized before being used for dishes and equipment. 


Which activity is not allowed in a 3 compartment sink?

Under no circumstances shall a 3 compartment sink be ever used for cleaning mop or dumping mop water. This sink unit is used for cleaning and sanitizing dishes and equipment that come in direct contact with food being prepared. Ideally, the 3 compartment sink must only be used for cleaning, rinsing, and sanitizing dishes and light to medium equipment.
Even for small tasks such as handwashing and thawing foods, this sink is not advised to be used. A dedicated utility sink for handwashing must be provided by the food management or a 3 compartment sink with a hand washing sink. When used for other tasks such as cleaning and preparing raw materials, the sink must be properly cleaned and sanitized before after use. These operations are done to prevent cross-contamination of chemical cleaners and sanitizers such as chlorine bleach into the food item and food particles in the sink.  


What are the 5 steps to washing dishes in a three-compartment sink? 

As previously mentioned, there are other operations that must be done by the food handler in addition to the 3-sink method of dishwashing to ensure that the entire cleaning process is complete and effective. Preoperational and post-operational tasks are done to increase the effectiveness of the three main operations performed in a three-compartment sink.
washing dishes in a three compartment sink
The proper method of washing dishes is as follows:
  1. Scrape food. Remove any leftover food from the dirty dishes manually and collect it in a receptacle. Collect and sort all cleaned dishes and utensils before washing.
  2. Wash dishes. Thoroughly wash dishes and apply soap or use warm, soapy water for washing. The temperature of the wash water in a three-compartment sink must at least be 110°F (43°C) to help the detergent in removing grease. Use a suitable brush for removing tough stains or dried food on the dishes and utensils. Transfer the washed dishes to the next compartment.
  3. Rinse the dishes. Using the same water temperature control as with the previous sink compartment, rinse the remaining soap residue on the dishes and utensils.
  4. Soak in sanitizer. After rinsing, soak all dishes, utensils, and every piece of equipment in the recommended sanitizing solution. Most chemical sanitizers indicate proper use on the product label. A common source of chlorine compounds is bleach. This includes the safe levels of concentration and contact time of the sanitizing solution to the utensils. For other food businesses that prefer the use of very hot water, the 3 compartment sink sanitizer temperature must be at least 171°F (77°C). The dishes and containers of food should then be submerged in hot water for at least 30 seconds to achieve the sanitizing effect. Use chemical test strips or other correct test strips to determine if the desired concentration or temperature is reached. 
  5. Air-dry the dishes. Post sanitation, stack all hygienic dishes and tools in a dedicated drying rack on top of a sanitized surface, and air dry items naturally. Air drying must be done without the help of any forced air or towels. Other methods of drying increase the risk of cross-contamination on the food utensils. 
5 steps for washing dishes in a 3 compartment sink-1
5 Steps for washing dishes in a 3 compartment sink
The detailed description of how to use a 3-basin sink is part of a comprehensive Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOP). In addition to following the correct sequence of the entire cleaning procedure, food handlers must also be aware and concerned with other cleaning factors. The related equipment used, the correct type of sanitizing solution, the temperature of the water, and even the immersion times of the chemical sanitizing solution all contribute to the effectiveness of the cleaning and sanitizing processes. 


What temperature should water be in a 3 compartment sink?

The temperature of the water supply in a 3-bowl sink plays a crucial role in cleaning and sanitizing. In general, the FDA recommends that the water used for cleaning and rinsing should be at least 110°F (43°C) or a few degrees higher. At this temperature, the oil from the residual food is easily removed. In addition, most detergents and sanitizers recommend this temperature for killing foodborne pathogens.
In the case of using hot water as the sanitizer for the final step, the soaking water temperature at a minimum of 171°F (77°C) is required. Most foodborne pathogens will not be able to survive this water temperature which has the same effect as using a food-safe sanitizer.


How do you prevent cross-contamination when using a 3 compartment sink?

Although the commercial 3 compartment sink is used for cleaning and sanitizing, it can become a point and source of cross-contamination. When the cleaning and sanitizing processes are improperly carried out, food debris and dirty water can contaminate other food utensils and equipment. In addition, drying using a towel can also cause cross-contaminationTo prevent cross-contamination of food utensils when using a 3 compartment sink, follow these food safety practices:
  • Do not use any of the sink compartments for handwashing, preparing food, thawing, or washing dishcloths. 
  • Collect all food debris in a receptacle near the washing sink basin.
  • The correct temperature reading of the water supply must be regularly monitored and recorded.
  • Never use the sink for dumping mop water or washing a mop. Use a dedicated mop sink or laundry sink for this operation.
  • Thoroughly follow the entire process of sanitation.
  • Use the proper chlorine strength or hot water minimum temperature range as a sanitizer.
  • Do not use the sink for storage.
  • Do not put soiled dishes in the rinsing and sanitizing compartments.
These reminders are just some of the important points that need to be followed to prevent the occurrence of cross-contamination. There may be other additional requirements depending on the manufacturer of your sink. When not properly used, a cleaning and sanitizing sink can become the source of foodborne illness-causing pathogens and can even lead to an outbreak. These sinks must always be dedicated to only cleaning and sanitizing. Other utility sinks must be provided by the food establishment for handwashing and preparing foods. 


How do you clean a 3 compartment sink?

Similar to how you clean the dishes in a 3 compartment sink, you also have to keep every sink sanitized. Microorganisms and salt deposits can build up on the sides of your sink, especially in the washing compartment. You can use clean single-use gloves to protect your hands from sanitizer.
Cleaning and sanitizing every basin or sink must be done before and after your everyday operations. Cleaning your 3 compartment sinks require detergents, brushes, and three-compartment sink sanitizer. The process must be accompanied by an abrasive motion to dislodge any build-up on the corners of the sink. After washing with soap or detergent, the sinks must be rinsed and then sanitized. The cleaning process of your sink must be regularly performed on time to ensure safety.
cleaning a 3 compartment sink
This whole routine must be included in your food safety management system (FSMS). Although, with all of the dishes and equipment that you need to clean and sanitize, your kitchen staff may forget to sanitize the sinks by the end of the day. To help you remember this task and ensure that it is done correctly, use our digital solution at FoodDocs.

The use of a 3-bay sink is actually a very broad topic. Do you still have a lot of questions? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this topic to help you understand it better.


When should the sanitizer solution be changed in a three-compartment sink?

  • The sanitizer aqueous solution such as regular bleach must be changed every 2 to 4 hours of continuous use. Failure to replenish or change the sanitizer solution will make the sanitation process less effective.


What is the cleaning and sanitizing equipment in a three-compartment sink?

  • In addition to the 3 compartments, this type of sink must be complete with a 3 compartment sink faucet, drain boards on each side of the sink, a bay for dirty dishes, sponges with receptacles, a soap dispenser, and sanitizer. You may also need to install a backsplash guard to facilitate the cleaning process.


What is the first step when cleaning dishes in a three-compartment sink?

  • The first step in cleaning dishes is to scrape off all remaining food debris. This process comes before washing. Removing large food particles will make the washing process easier, prevent clogging the drainages, and reduce the risk of cross-contamination with the other bay sink compartments.


What goes in the third compartment of a three-compartment sink?

  • The third compartment of a three-compartment sink is dedicated to sanitizing rinsed dishes and utensils. The 1st sink is used for cleaning, whereas the 2nd sink is for rinsing. 


What is the correct order of steps in a three-compartment sink? 

The 3 compartment sink method is accomplished according to the correct cleaning order which is as follows:

  1. Wash
  2. Rinse
  3. Sanitize


Do you need a 3 compartment sink if you have a dishwasher?

If your mechanical dishwasher is able to accommodate all big and small dishes, equipment, and utensils, then there is no need for a 3 compartment sink basin. This is assuming that all of your utensils are dishwasher safe. Otherwise, a food service establishment would significantly benefit from this unit.


What should the temperature of the detergent water be in a three-compartment sink?

As per the FDA requirement, the water supply for detergent water must be at least 110°F (43°C) or a few degrees higher. The same standard applies to the water used for washing.


A digital solution for cleaning and other food safety tasks

Cleaning and sanitation are two of the main tasks that need to be done on time and correctly to ensure their effectiveness. As such, food handlers must always be alert and oriented with every principle and step related to the two operations. Although a printed checklist can help your team remember every cleaning task, the time you spend browsing which one to do next could have been spent on the actual cleaning and sanitizing processes.

To solve this problem, what you need is a digital solution. At FoodDocs, we have built the most efficient solution in a digital platform for your sanitation and cleaning tasks. Our system can automatically create a digital checklist with all of the necessary steps in cleaning the most important sections of your kitchen.


To remind the responsible food employees for cleaning, our system sends out smart notifications to alert and remind them of the due tasks. Never let a food safety task out of your sight with our digital solution. To make the food safety experience more personal, our system accommodates customizations so you can modify the frequency of cleaning tasks as well as the required sanitizer levels.

You can get all of these features by availing of our digital Food Safety Management System. Our whole program uses artificial intelligence right from building your FSMS up to filling up every monitoring form in your everyday operations. In just 15 minutes, you can get an automatically generated digital FSMS complete with the most necessary documents needed to maintain food safety compliance. 

Included in our digital FSMS product, your team can get the following features:

  • Automatically generated digital monitoring forms specifically for your food safety tasks. These forms are equipped with an auto-fill feature that uses previously entered data and lets your team save time and improve accuracy. 
  • Smart notification feature that alerts food handlers of tasks that need to be done on time.
  • A real-time dashboard that reflects your everyday food safety status and areas that need more improvement. 
  • Cloud storage for all of your digital food safety documents.

With our digital FSMS, you can save a significant amount of time from browsing every monitoring form and filling them out repetitively. Our system can take care of the tedious task and let you focus on what matters the most, ensuring food safety in your operations.

Join our list of more than 20,000 customers that are enjoying food safety compliance in the most efficient and effective way possible. Make food safety compliance an easy job for your team and help them boost your services and gain customer confidence.

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