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Tips for cleaning and sanitizing food surfaces
February 8, 2013




Food safety: cleaning and sanitizing food surfaces at restaurants and foodservice operations
There is no replacement for a first impression. From the moment a customer walks through your front door, they are looking for your establishment to provide ambience, quality food and a clean environment. Placing a high priority on food safety is one of the best ways to protect your customers, employees and business reputation.

No cleaning task in your establishment is as important as the proper cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces. These surfaces may include prep tables, utensils, dishes, cutting boards and processing equipment. Even the interior of a microwave oven is considered a food contact surface because food on the sides or ceiling of the oven could drip onto other foods being warmed, causing what is referred to as “cross-contamination.”

Common cause of illness

Cross-contamination is the transfer of microorganisms or allergens onto food or food contact surfaces during the preparation, serving or storage process. Cross-contamination is the most common and critical sanitation failure leading to foodborne illnesses.

It is crucial that every member of a foodservice team knows what constitutes a “food contact surface” and understands the importance of proper process and products to both clean and sanitize. Cleaning and sanitization involves the effective physical removal of soils, bacteria and other microorganisms. This process when performed frequently and correctly will reduce the risk of direct or indirect cross-contamination of food.

How to reduce the risk

The following is a list of “must-do’s” to reduce the risk of cross-contamination:
  • Follow provincial and local health department guidelines.
  • Follow equipment manufacturer’s instructions regarding proper use of sanitizers.
  • Follow chemical manufacturer’s instructions regarding proper chemical use directions, dilution rates and safe handling directions for dish detergent and sanitizer.
  • Wash, rinse, and sanitize food-contact surfaces before each use.
  • Always refer to the (WHMIS) Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System provided by the chemical manufacturer if you have questions about the use of specific chemicals.
Sanitizing and disinfecting

Defined, “sanitizing” means to reduce microorganisms on a surface to a safe and acceptable level. “Disinfecting” is the total elimination of microorganisms on a surface, and is more prevalent in healthcare environments due to the risk of infection after medical procedures. To make shipping and storage cost effective, sanitizers are commonly diluted from concentrate into required parts per million (ppm) solutions according to the manufacturer’s label directions. Dilution rates higher or lower than the recommended dosage are equally hazardous. Dispensing systems help provide precise chemical dilutions and active ingredient test strips are always recommended for testing solution compliance.

When to clean and sanitize

As a rule, the following criteria should be applied as part of any best-practice program:
  • Each time there is a change in processing between different types of animal products.
  • Each time there is a change from raw to ready-to-eat foods.
  • After surface contact with any major food allergen.
  • At least every four hours on equipment and utensils used at room temperature.
  • Throughout the day as necessary.
  • After final use each working day.
Best practice for handling and using sanitizer:

Handling and using sanitizers can be dangerous if not done properly. Following these guidelines can help you and your staff avoid the risks.
  • Never mix detergent and a chemical sanitizer.
  • When testing mixed sanitizer solution, always ensure the solution is at room temperature (24˚C) to receive an accurate reading from test strips.
  • Use a clean towel to apply sanitizer onto surfaces.
An essential factor in the success of any restaurant is a well-rounded food safety and sanitation program. Proper implementation of cleaning and sanitization procedures and emphasis on related staff training will directly correlate to safer food production environments.

See also: 

CRFA’s National Food Safety Training Program certifies foodservice employees to meet a national standard of food safety. NFSTP is available across Canada online and through certified trainers. CRFA's Food Safety Code of Practice is a guide to regulations and codes across Canada. The Code provides guidance on planning, construction, purchasing, daily operations and training in food service businesses.

Thanks to Keith Whitwell, Marketing Director of Diversey Canada (, for contributing information to this article.

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