The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning & Sanitizing Food Contact Surfaces

What Is the Proper Way to Sanitize Food Contact Surfaces?

Cleanliness is a key consideration of the consumer 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 sanitize your dining area — 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 for bleach cleaning solutions, though bleach can be harmful if misused. Alternatively, you can use a pre-moistened cleaning wipe, which uses a non-bleach solution and is a faster and convenient option.

2. Rinse the Area
Next, rinse the area with a separate cloth. A damp cloth should be used to remove any chemical residue. Be sure to use hot water, as this is better at loosening any remaining debris.

3. Sanitize the Surface
Sanitizing involves killing any bacteria with chemicals or heat. If you’ll be using chemicals, ensure that they are safe to be used near food, then rinse the area again. When using water, ensure that your water is hot — at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit — to kill bacteria effectively. Alternatively, you can use no-rinse sanitizing products. Keep in mind that, according to FDA guidelines, you must allow an area to drain after sanitation before it may come into contact with food. After sanitizing a food contact surface, you’ll need to allow the area to air dry.

Considerations for Different Foodservice Environments

While the above advice holds true for nearly all food contact surfaces, different food contact areas call for different approaches to cleaning. There are some unique considerations for different food contact surfaces 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 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. Focus particularly on areas that have the most germs near or on the table. 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.


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 cleaning wipes. Wipe canister wall brackets near counters can give kitchen employees quick access to these. Further, disposable wipes help prevent cross-contamination, unlike reusable wiping towels.

Finally, be sure that employees aren’t carrying contaminants from counters to elsewhere in the restaurant. Keep sanitizing wipes handy near all food preparation areas in order to minimize this risk.

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 to prevent anything from burning on. 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. For the same reason, you shouldn’t use harsh scouring pads. And, of course, be sure to properly clean, handle, and dispose of any grease.

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 and clean 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.

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 to remove any visible debris over a garbage receptacle — this may require the use of abrasives, depending on the type of food. Afterward, soak items in a separate pre-wash sink for approximately 15 minutes.

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 guests use it, 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 customers. For instance, detergents you might use on tile flooring generally should not be used on food contact areas.
  • 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.
  1. FDA Food Code 2021
  2. CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21?” 2021
  3. Wash those hands! Here are the 6 germiest places in a restaurant?” 2017
  4. How to Clean Stainless Steel Countertops?” 2019