7 Steps to Effective Cleaning & Sanitizing

Cleaning and sanitising is a critical part of food safety. By law, any area where food is handled, stored, displayed or sold must be kept clean and tidy.
June 29, 2016

Cleaning and sanitising is a critical part of food safety. By law, any area where food is handled, stored, displayed or sold must be kept in a clean and tidy condition.

The purpose of cleaning and sanitising is to reduce the levels of bacteria in the workplace. This in turn reduces the risk of contamination, and of course food poisoning.

Why is cleaning important?

The purpose of cleaning is to prevent the growth of bacteria on surfaces and equipment used to process, store and transport food. Cleaning discourages pest infestations too. Most pests are attracted to food scraps or even crumbs in the food preparation area, so regular cleaning reduces the risk of pests and the harmful diseases they carry.

Cleaning is also important to create a safe working environment for staff, and to project a good image to customers.

What should I clean?

All equipment and surfaces that have direct contact with food must be cleaned and sanitised thoroughly and regularly to avoid the build-up of bacteria. All crockery, cutlery and glassware used to serve food to customers will also need to be cleaned regularly.

There are other, perhaps less obvious areas that should also be regularly cleaned and sanitised. Walls, doors and even windows in the food preparation area should all be frequently cleaned, along with external items such as chairs, tables and service counters.

When do I need to clean?

Cleaning should be done as soon as possible after use of equipment to prevent bacteria from multiplying. Any Items that have direct contact with food should be cleaned and sanitised after each use. This is especially important when you are changing from working with raw foods to cooked or ready to eat foods.

Other items in the workplace such as floors, sinks and benches need to be cleaned regularly. Your food safety program should have procedures detailing how often.

Cleaning vs. sanitising

But just what is the difference between cleaning and sanitising?

Cleaning is the process used to remove food, dirt and grease from crockery, utensils, surfaces and equipment. Cleaning is done using detergent, however it doesn’t kill bacteria or the pathogens that cause food poisoning.  To kill bacteria and ensure a clean workplace, you must follow cleaning with sanitising. Sanitising kills germs and bacteria and is required for all surfaces and equipment that have direct contact with food. Sanitising is done using steam, hot water with a temperature over 77ºC or a chemical sanitiser.

Cleaning crockery and equipment:

  1. Scrape: Scraping is important as it removes all dirt, grease and food particles from the item that you are cleaning. Depending on the item you are cleaning, you may need to scrape, wipe or remove items with a cloth.
  2. Rinse: After removing all food particles from the item, rinse it using clean, warm to hot water. Try to use running water if it is available (and suitable for the item being cleaned).
  3. Detergent: Next, clean the item using warm or hot water and detergent. This removes any remaining food grease or food particles. Be sure to clean in all the grooves and crevices of the item.
  4. Rinse again: Rinsing the item again using warm to hot water is important as it will remove any detergent or leftover food particles.
  5. Sanitise: There are several methods of sanitising including hot water, steam or a chemical sanitiser. When using a chemical sanitiser, always read the product instructions to ensure the correct amount of time and sanitiser is used. Generally there will also be a minimum amount of time required for the sanitiser to work successfully too.
  6. Final Rinse: Rinsing the item again using warm to hot running water is important as it removes the chemical sanitiser and prevents the risk of chemical contamination.
  7. Dry: Always let items air-dry. Do not use tea towels or cloths to dry items as these can carry high levels of bacteria and could contaminate the item you have just cleaned and sanitised.

It’s vitally important that all items used to serve food to customers – such as crockery, cutlery and glassware – are cleaned, sanitised and kept dry. Commercial dishwashers are the most effective way to do this, as they wash at temperatures of at least 55ºC for at least 60 seconds. Commercial dishwashers also rinse items thoroughly in temperatures above 77ºC, or 55ºC if a chemical sanitiser is used.

Glassware should always be washed separately from other items, preferably in it’s own dishwasher.

Once equipment and utensils have been thoroughly cleaned and sanitised, it is important to store them as quickly as possible to prevent re-contamination. Sanitised items should not be allowed to come into contact with any dirty items or food.

Using clean hands, store items in a clean area, away from any possible sources of contamination. Be sure to dispose of any cracked or chipped items. Damaged items such as crockery can harbour high levels of bacteria.


Linen such as tea towels, kitchen cloths and tablecloths can contain dangerous levels of bacteria and may contaminate food. It’s important that these items are changed regularly during and between shifts.

A great way to manage dirty linen is to have designated container, away from any food or clean linen. This reduces the risk of staff accidentally using dirty items.

Staff should also be properly trained on how to use different linen items in the workplace. For example, wiping dishes before service should be done with a different cloth to that used to dry hands. Linen should also be stored in a clean, dry place away from possible contamination.

Storage and handling of cleaning products

Proper storage is vital not just for clean items, but also for the cleaning utensils themselves. Items such as scourers, wipes, brushes, mops, dishcloths, detergent and sanitiser should all be stored correctly to prevent contamination. It’s also important to store cleaning chemicals and sanitisers away from food, as this could cause chemical contamination.

Always store chemicals securely, and never remove the labels. It’s important that all staff can see how to use the products safely and effectively, and understand any potential hazards that may be associated with them.

Some cleaning products may also require that you wear protective clothing such as masks and gloves. This equipment should also be used when moving the items in and out of storage to protect the handler against spillage. Use caution when handling cleaning products, many cleaning agents are chemical based and can cause serious health issues if they come into contact with skin or eyes, or if they are inhaled or swallowed.  Always ensure that all staff are aware of the correct procedures for using the cleaning products in your workplace, and that they know what to do if an incident occurs.

This public health information was produced and distributed by the Australian Institute of Food Safety Foundation.