Keeping food safe should be one of your highest priorities as a food handler. One of the easiest ways to keep food safe is to clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces. But how often should they be cleaned? Although it’s a good idea to clean and sanitize equipment and utensils whenever you switch tasks, you must clean and sanitize between certain tasks.
1. Between raw animal food items
In general, you must clean and sanitize when switching between raw animal food products such as chicken and beef. However, the order of food preparation is important. If you switch to a product with a higher final cooking temperature, you don’t need to clean and sanitize.
For example, if you are cutting beef (with a 145°F cooking temperature) and then switch to cutting chicken (165°F cooking temperature), you don’t need to clean and sanitize. But, if you switch from cutting chicken to cutting beef, you need to clean and sanitize. If you aren’t sure when to clean and sanitize, err on the side of caution.
2. Between raw foods and ready-to-eat foods
Always clean and sanitize when switching between working with raw foods and ready-to-eat foods. Imagine you finish cutting up pork chops and now need to cut some watermelon. Should you clean and sanitize? Yes!
Raw foods contain harmful germs, or pathogens, that are only killed through proper cooking. If you do not clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces between raw foods and ready-to-eat foods, those pathogens will get on your ready-to-eat food. Since ready-to-eat food isn’t cooked, the pathogens can make people sick.
3. After common food allergens
Clean and sanitize after working with a common food allergen. Just like raw foods leave behind pathogens, food allergens leave behind proteins that can make people with food allergies sick. Avoid this problem by cleaning and sanitizing utensils after preparing an allergen.
There are two other circumstances where you must clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces.
4. After four hours of constant use (with TCS foods)
When working with TCS food, it is important to clean and sanitize every four hours. Pathogens can grow to unsafe levels in the food after four hours. If that happens, not even cooking will make it safe. To prevent these pathogens from making people sick, clean and sanitize utensils and equipment every four hours.
5. After a break
Just like you wash your hands and put on clean gloves after taking a break, you should also clean and sanitize your food-contact surfaces. Even when the surfaces aren’t in use, pathogens can still multiply on them. Cleaning and sanitizing after a break is a best practice that will keep your food safe.
September is National Food Safety Education Month. Food safety education is important to us here at StateFoodSafety. We have many great food safety education resources that will help you keep the food you prepare safe! For starters, we invite you to check out our Food Handlers and Food Allergens courses.
— Jacqueline Quist
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