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6 Steps to Reduce Foodborne Illness and Cross-Contamination

6 Steps to Reduce Foodborne Illness and Cross-Contamination

Without proper cleaning and sanitization procedures, foodservice operators are putting their customers at increased risk of foodborne illness. A food poisoning outbreak will negatively affect customer’s perception and satisfaction with your business, giving your business a bad reputation. A bad reputation can mean lost sales and may even put you out of business.

Foodservice operators must implement and follow the proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures to prevent cross-contamination and foodborne illness.

Using the best restaurant cleaning supplies and commercial kitchen cleaning chemicals will help protect your patrons from illness, increase customer satisfaction, and improve your bottom line.

Foodborne diseases cause 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) to get sick, 128,000 to be hospitalized, and 3,000 to die each year, according to the CDC.

In this article, we will go over the best way to properly clean and sanitize food contact surfaces to reduce illness and cross-contamination.

Foodborne illness occurs as a result of contaminated food. Food becomes contaminated from pathogens (germs that cause disease).

The top 5 known foodborne pathogens are:Food-Processing-Recall

  1. Norovirus
  2. Salmonella (nontyphoidal)
  3. Clostridium perfringens
  4. Campylobacter
  5. Staphylococcus aureus (staph)

Pathogens can spread to food from surfaces that were not properly cleaned and sanitized.

Any work surface in your facility that comes into contact with food products should be cleaned and sanitized.

Pro Tip: You should always clean before you can sanitize. A dirty surface cannot be sanitized.

Cleaners and sanitizers should be used on items like food prep tables, kitchen counters, and other food contact surfaces to prevent pathogens from spreading. 

When should food contact surfaces be cleaned and sanitized?

  • Before each use
  • Between uses when preparing different types of raw animal foods (such as eggs, fish, meat, and poultry)
  • Between uses when preparing ready-to-eat foods
  • Any time contamination occurs or is suspected

Cleaning Food Contact Surfaces

Cleaning removes physical, visible soils like food particles or oily residue. It also prepares the surface to be sanitized.

Soils can harbor bacteria and other microorganisms and can allow germs to “hide”. 

Cleaning must take place before sanitizing.

Cleaning involves three steps:

Chef cleaning up flour

Step 1: Remove Food Residue

Start by clearing off any large food or liquid matter.

Step 2: Apply Cleaner

Use a detergent cleaner to remove leftover soils from the surface. Apply the detergent according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Detergents help reduce the surface tension of water used with the cleaning chemical, so they can surround and lift soil from the surface.

Chef Spraying cleanerStep 3: Rinse The Surface

Rinse the surface with a clean cloth and fresh potable water.

Rinsing the surface removes any remaining water, soils, and detergent. This step prepares the surface for the sanitizer to be applied.

Sanitizing Food Contact Surfaces

Sanitizing reduces the number of hazardous bacteria on a surface to levels that are considered safe by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).

You must sanitize after cleaning. Cleaning removes soils, but it does not kill germs.

The best way to ensure you are removing all germs is to use a food grade sanitizer. Food grade sanitizers remove 99.99% of all germs.

Food grade or food contact sanitizer is the best choice, because it kills germs and is safe to come into contact with food without contaminating it. Cleaning chemicals that have gotten into the food is another primary way food from restaurants and other foodservice operations becomes contaminated.

Pro Tip: It is important to note that sanitizers are not the same as disinfectants. Disinfectants are not typically used for food-contact surfaces, because they can leave harmful residues.

Sanitizers and disinfectants are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on food-contact surfaces.

Look on the product label for confirmation that the product is food-contact safe. If the label does not indicate this, the information can be found online using the EPA registration number.

After you have cleaned the surface, follow these steps for sanitizing:

Step 4: Select The Sanitizer Type

There are four common types of food grade sanitizers: chlorine (bleach), quat-based, peroxyacetic acid (PAA), and iodophors.

The best choice will depend on the benefits your facility is looking for. For example, some sanitizers will be more environmentally friendly, while other sanitizers will be less corrosive to certain surfaces.

Chlorine (Bleach)

  • Clorox Germicidal BleachChlorine has a broad range of kill claims and is effective against most bacteria, viruses, yeasts, molds, and fungi.
  • Chlorine is relatively cheap when compared to other food grade sanitizers and leaves little residue on the surface.
  • It is easily affected by any remaining soil load on the surface and is corrosive to metals.
  • The sodium hypochlorite you choose needs to have an EPA registration as a sanitizer and must be diluted as directed to be compliant with kill claims.

Quat-basedQuat-Based Sanitizer

  • Quat-based sanitizers are usually odorless, non-staining, non-corrosive and relatively non-toxic to users.
  • They are moderately priced when compared to other sanitizers.
  • While it is important to always clean before sanitizing, if your staff misses an area and leaves behind soils, quats possess some cleaning ability. This allows quat-based sanitizers to be less affected by any remaining light soil loads when compared to other sanitizers.
  • Quat-based sanitizers can be affected by quat-binding if they are not used correctly. Quat-binding will reduce cleaning efficacy and will increase the risk of germs being left behind.

Peroxyacetic Acid (PAA)

  • Peroxyacetic acid is also known as peracetic acid.Spartan PAA Sanitizer-1
  • PAA-based sanitizers are considered more environmentally friendly because they break down into acetic acid, oxygen, and water.
  • Peroxyacetic acid is moderately priced when compared to the other sanitizers. 
  • PAA typically has a pungent odor.


  • Iodophors have a broad range of kill claims, similar to chlorine. 
  • Iodophor-based sanitizers are typically more expensive when compared to other sanitizers.
  • They are generally less affected by light soil loads that may be left behind from improper cleaning procedures.
  • Iodophors easily stain surfaces, especially plastics.
  • Iodine vaporizes at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, thus it is limited to low temperature applications.

Step 5: Apply Sanitizer

chef sanitizingApply the sanitizer according to manufacturer’s specifications.

Use a cloth to spread the sanitizer to all areas of the surface.

Too little sanitizer can result in reduced cleaning efficacy.

Pro Tip: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the residues from sanitizers that may enter the food supply. Any sanitizer and its maximum usage level for direct use on food or food contact surfaces must be approved by the FDA. Approved usage levels are listed in the Code of Federal Regulations (21 CFR 178.1010).

Using a ready-to-use sanitizer can eliminate the risk of improper dilution.

Step 6: Air DryChef Sharpening Knives

Let the surface air dry. Do not dry the surface with towels or other materials because they may re-contaminate the area and shorten the product’s necessary dwell time.

The sanitizer must achieve the required “WET” dwell time to be effective.

Pro Tip: What is Dwell Time?

Dwell time is the amount of time the product needs to remain wet on a surface to effectively kill the organisms that are listed on its label on the surface.

Different commercial cleaning chemicals require different dwell times based on the EPA registration and contact time required for each organism.

Commercial cleaning products which are not used with the proper dwell time and removal process are not effectively killing germs and are not meeting EPA requirements.

Sanitizing is the last step to avoid contamination. Do not rinse or perform any other cleaning process after sanitizing.

Final Thoughts

Lapses in your cleaning and sanitation program can lead to contaminated food as well as customer illness, complaints, and other serious problems that can harm your reputation, raise insurance rates, and potentially put you out of business.

Protecting your guest’s health and satisfaction is critical to your business’ reputation.

Once your brand develops a bad reputation it can be hard to get it back. Maintaining the cleanliness of your foodservice operation cannot be overstated.

We will work with you to develop a program that will help keep your facility clean, food safe, and customers happy and protected, whether you’re in the United States, Puerto Rico, other Caribbean. 

Imperial Dade pays particular attention to every area of your operation, helping you build a comprehensive Sanitation Standard Operating Procedure (SSOPs) to keep your facility clean and your customers safe. Our Experts create cleaning and sanitation programs using a combination of the best cleaning procedures and commercial cleaning supplies.

For more information about how to avoid lapses in your facility’s cleaning and sanitation program, contact an Imperial Dade Specialist today.