The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning & Sanitizing Food Contact Surfaces

What Is the Proper Way to Sanitize Food Contact Surfaces?

When it comes to foodservice, cleanliness is a key consideration of the guest experience. For many guests who enter your restaurant, the cleanliness of the front of the house can leave a lasting impression that can impact how they perceive your restaurant and brand as a whole.

If you want to develop a strong base of recurring diners and bolster word-of-mouth marketing, you need to properly clean and sanitize your dining and kitchen areas — particularly food contact surfaces. However, there are many restaurant cleaning products, and understanding how to best use them can be confusing. What is the best way to approach this task?

This guide will help you improve your hygiene practices when it comes to sanitizing food contact surfaces in both the front and back of house and providing the cleanest possible dining area for customers. This will ensure that you remain compliant with FDA Food Code guidelines and provide a safe, comfortable environment for guests.

The Correct Order for Cleaning Food Contact Surfaces

Proper sanitation reduces the risk that diners may be exposed to dangerous pathogens, and it also helps prevent cross-contamination — one of the most commonly cited foodservice health code violations. Having effective restaurant cleaning supplies is important, but you will still need to use them correctly to maximize safety.

Properly cleaning and sanitizing food contact surfaces involves following steps in a specific order. Follow each of the steps below to ensure you eliminate any health risks in either the front or back of house.

1. Clean the Food Contact Surface
To begin cleaning, wipe the surface clean of any visible debris. You’ll then want to apply a food-grade, non-abrasive cleaning solution with a microfiber wipe. Some restaurants may opt to use a pre-moistened cleaning wipe as a fast and convenient option.

2. Rinse the Area
Next, rinse the area with potable water. A damp cloth can be used to remove any residue left by the cleaner. Be sure to use hot water, as this is better at loosening any remaining debris.

3. Sanitize the Surface
Sanitizing involves reducing any bacteria to a safe level with chemicals or heat. If you’ll be using disinfecting chemicals to sanitize, you are required to rinse the area with potable water once the chemical’s contact time has been achieved.. Alternatively, you can use no-rinse sanitizing products. As the name implies, these products do not require a rinse after use. Keep in mind that, according to FDA guidelines, you must allow an area to drain or air dry after sanitizing before it may come into contact with food.

When to Disinfect in the Dining Areas

Note that disinfectant solutions are not to be used on food contact surfaces without rinsing. However, high-touch surfaces in dining areas — such as doorknobs, menus, booster seats, and handrails — should be disinfected at least once a day. This can eliminate harmful pathogens, such as cold and flu viruses. (See your disinfectant’s Technical Data Bulletin for that product’s efficacy claims.)

Hot or warm water, disinfectant solution, and soft cloths should be used to disinfect such areas. Convenient solutions like disinfectant wipes can simplify this process and improve labor efficiency.

Considerations for Different Foodservice Environments

While the above advice holds true for nearly all food contact surfaces, different foodservice environments call for different approaches to cleaning. There are some unique considerations for different environments to consider:

Dining Tables

Clean your dining tables every time a customer finishes a meal and leaves. Many tables are smooth and designed to be easy to clean. Using disposable cleaning wipes is a great way to quickly and efficiently prepare a table for a new guest. If you have wooden tables, or if your tables have seams or cracks in them, you can make it a practice to use a cotton swab or toothbrush to remove any debris.

When cleaning the dining area, think beyond the tabletops themselves. Think of high chairs, menus, eating utensils, salt/pepper shakers, and so on. Being thorough in this regard will help you create a safer dining area. Also, be sure to check with your local Health Department as some jurisdictions require sanitizing (rather than just cleaning) of dining areas.


Most restaurants have stainless steel countertops, as they are easy to clean and maintain. If you don’t have these, this is a smart and relatively affordable upgrade. Remember that stainless steel countertops must be properly cleaned regularly to avoid rust or corrosion. If you notice either, use a nonabrasive rust remover — but be sure that any chemicals you use are thoroughly removed before resuming use for food preparation.

Food preparation areas should have quick access to sanitizing wipes. Wall brackets near counters can give kitchen employees quick access to these. Further, disposable wipes prevent cross-contamination, unlike reusable wiping towels.

In addition to hand washing, keep hand sanitizing wipes handy near all food preparation areas. Hand sanitizing wipes are proven to be more effective than gels in removing dirt and soil from hands. (See the Technical Data Bulletin for efficacy claims.)

Kitchen Appliances

When cleaning any kitchen appliance, follow the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning process. This is typically included in the manual for the appliance. However, there are some general tips that apply to most commercial appliances.

Cooking equipment must be cleaned on a daily basis. When maintaining cooking ranges, spills must be wiped up as soon as possible and grease should be removed regularly to prevent build up. When cleaning ranges at the end of the day, be sure to use non-abrasive cleaners; otherwise, you could create scratches that could hold bacteria or lead to corrosion. Disposable degreasing wipes are a great alternative to keeping surfaces clean. And they’re convenient for quick grease removal throughout the day, making the end-of shift degreasing task less cumbersome.

Commercial dishwashers require the same level of attention. You should always scrape dishes and utensils above a trash receptacle, but if you notice any food residue lingering in your dishwasher, be sure to remove it. Regularly drain, clean, and sanitize the dishwasher — including the spray nozzles, filters, arms, and jets — to remove potential contaminants. Be sure to leave plenty of time for it to air out.

Food contact surfaces of appliances, such as the bowl of a mixer or the blade of a deli slicer, should follow the same cleaning and sanitizing protocols as all other food contact surfaces.

Dishes & Utensils

Don’t neglect to properly clean your restaurant’s dishes and utensils. A simple run through a dishwasher is not enough. You should pre-clean all dishes and utensils over a garbage receptacle to remove any visible debris — this may require the use of abrasives, depending on the type of food. This is done to ensure sanitizing solutions are not exposed to any contaminants like food particles or other residue.

At this point, you’re ready to put your dishes in a dishwasher or clean them by hand. Be sure to use your machine’s prewash cycle, if applicable. If your dishwasher uses a water sanitation system, use a temperature-sensitive label to ensure it reaches the appropriate temperature. If you have a chemical injection dishwasher, use a chemical test strip to verify the items have been cleaned appropriately.

After the machine runs, allow the dishes and utensils to air dry. Before guest use, inspect them. There shouldn’t be any visible contamination if you followed the steps above, but if you notice any, repeat this process.

How to Implement Cleaning & Sanitation Changes in Your Restaurant

There are several tips you should keep in mind when implementing cleaning or sanitation changes at your restaurant. These include:

  • When you introduce any new changes, do so in a group meeting. Be sure to explain the new procedures and cleaning materials, as well as the reasons for the new changes. Emphasize the benefits these changes will have on the employees themselves, customers, and the business overall.
  • Emphasize the proper use of cleaning supplies. Even with the best intentions, improper cleaning supplies or improper cleaning methods can pose a risk to your employees and customers. For instance, disinfecting agents should not be used on food contact areas without rinsing afterwards.

Let employees know that they will be held accountable for following through on new changes. Supervise employees to ensure compliance. If you notice a trend of employees struggling with certain changes, hold a meeting to clear up any points of confusion.