Food Contact Surfaces

By David Rigbye April 12, 2023

Food contact surfaces are surfaces that come into direct contact with food during preparation, cooking, storage, or serving. It is important to keep these surfaces clean and sanitised to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and ensure the safety of the food being prepared and served.

What types of food contact surfaces are there?

There are various types of food contact surfaces used in the food service industry. Each type of surface has its own benefits and drawbacks, which can affect its suitability for use in specific applications. Some of the most common types of food contact surfaces include:


Hands are perhaps the most obvious example of a food contact surface. Hands can carry a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which can be harmful to human health. When handling food, it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently to reduce the risk of contamination. 

Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, and dried thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer. Hand sanitisers can be used as an additional step, but should not be relied upon as a substitute for handwashing.


Clothing can also be considered a food contact surface, particularly if it comes into direct contact with food. Clothing can harbour bacteria and other microorganisms, and can also shed fibres and other debris that can contaminate food.

Food handlers should wear clean, washable clothing that is appropriate for the task at hand, and should avoid wearing jewellery, watches, or other accessories that could pose a risk of contamination.


Gloves are often used in food handling to provide an additional barrier between the hands and the food. However, gloves themselves can also be considered a food contact surface, and can transfer microorganisms from one surface to another if not used correctly. 

Gloves should be changed frequently, particularly when moving between different tasks or types of food, and should be disposed of and replaced immediately if they become torn or damaged. Hands should be washed thoroughly before and after wearing gloves, as gloves are not a substitute for proper hand hygiene.

Food containers

Food containers are one of the most commonly used food contact surfaces in the food service industry. They are used to store and transport food from one place to another, and are available in a wide range of materials, sizes, and shapes.

The type of food container used depends on the type of food being stored or transported. For example, plastic containers are often used to store pre-made salads, sandwiches, and desserts, while aluminium foil containers are used for cooking and storing hot dishes. Other materials commonly used for food containers include paper, cardboard, and glass.

While food containers are an essential part of food service, they can also be a potential source of contamination if they are not cleaned and maintained properly. Any dirt, grime, or bacteria that is left on a food container can easily transfer to the food that is stored inside, potentially causing foodborne illness.

To prevent contamination, food containers must be cleaned and sanitised regularly. This process typically involves washing the container with hot, soapy water, rinsing it thoroughly, and then sanitising it with a solution of water and an approved sanitising agent.

It is important to note that some types of food containers are single-use and should be discarded after each use. This includes items like paper or cardboard containers, which can easily become contaminated and are not designed to be reused.

Cooking utensils and equipment

Cooking utensils and equipment are essential in food preparation and handling. They are considered food contact surfaces because they come into direct contact with the food during the cooking process. This means that any contamination on the surface of the equipment or utensils can easily transfer to the food and cause foodborne illnesses. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that all cooking utensils and equipment are clean and properly sanitised before use.

Cooking utensils and equipment can be made of various materials, including stainless steel, aluminium, plastic, and ceramic. Each material has its benefits and drawbacks, but all require proper cleaning and sanitising to maintain their safety for food handling.

Stainless steel is a popular material for cooking utensils and equipment as it is durable, easy to clean, and does not rust or corrode. Aluminium is also a common material, as it is an excellent conductor of heat and lightweight. However, it can be prone to scratching, which can provide a breeding ground for bacteria.

Plastic and ceramic utensils and equipment are popular because they do not scratch non-stick surfaces and are easy to clean. However, they may not be as durable as metal materials and can be prone to cracking, which can provide a place for bacteria to grow.

To ensure that cooking utensils and equipment are safe for use, they should be cleaned and sanitised regularly. Cleaning involves removing any visible debris or residue from the surface of the equipment or utensils. This can be done using soap and water, and a scrubbing pad or brush.

Food preparation and washing workstations

It is important to maintain the cleanliness and sanitation of food preparation areas and washing workstations to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and other contaminants that can cause foodborne illness.

When preparing food, surfaces such as cutting boards, countertops, and workstations should be cleaned and sanitised before and after each use. This can be done using hot, soapy water and a food-safe sanitising solution. It is important to use separate cutting boards and workstations for raw and cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination.

Similarly, washing workstations used for cleaning produce, utensils, and other food contact surfaces should also be cleaned and sanitised regularly. These surfaces can harbour harmful bacteria if not properly cleaned, which can then be spread to other surfaces or foods. Food debris and other residue should be removed from these surfaces and a food-safe sanitising solution should be used to ensure proper sanitation.

Why does the design and construction of a food surface matter?

The design and construction of food contact surfaces can have a significant impact on their cleanliness and safety. If the surface is poorly designed, it may be difficult to clean and sanitise properly, which can lead to the growth and spread of harmful bacteria and other pathogens. On the other hand, a well-designed surface can be much easier to clean and maintain, reducing the risk of contamination.

Some factors that can affect the cleanliness and safety of food contact surfaces include:

  • The finish of a surface, which affects how easy it is to clean. Smooth surfaces with a non-porous finish are generally easier to clean than rough or porous surfaces, which can contain bacteria.
  • Different materials have different properties that can affect how easy they are to clean and their durability. Stainless steel is often used in food contact surfaces because it is durable, non-porous, and easy to clean.
  • Joints and seams can be difficult to clean and can harbour bacteria. Seamless designs or designs with minimal joints and seams can help to prevent this problem.
  • Food contact surfaces should be designed to allow for effective drainage of water and other liquids. Standing water can create a breeding ground for bacteria and other pathogens.
  • The design of food contact surfaces should allow for easy access for cleaning and sanitising. Hard-to-reach areas can be missed during cleaning, leading to contamination.

How to clean and sanitise a food contact surface

Cleaning and sanitising food contact surfaces is essential to prevent cross-contamination and the spread of foodborne illnesses. Here are the general steps for cleaning and sanitising a food contact surface:

  1. Remove any loose debris or food particles from the surface using a damp cloth or paper towel.
  2. Wash the surface with hot, soapy water using a clean cloth or sponge. Use a detergent or soap that is designed for food contact surfaces.
  3. Rinse the surface with clean water to remove any soap or detergent residue.
  4. Sanitise the surface using an approved sanitiser. The most common types of sanitisers used in food service establishments are chlorine-based sanitisers or quaternary ammonium sanitisers. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mixing and applying the sanitiser.
  5. Allow the sanitiser to sit on the surface for the recommended contact time (which is usually around 30 seconds to 1 minute).
  6. Rinse the surface with clean water to remove any sanitiser residue.
  7. Dry the surface with a clean cloth or let it air dry.

What are the best practices for cleaning and maintaining a food contact surface?

Cleaning and maintaining food contact surfaces is crucial to ensure food safety and prevent the spread of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms. Here are some best practices to follow:

Clean and sanitise regularly

All food contact surfaces should be cleaned and sanitised after each use, or at least every 4 hours if they are in constant use. This includes cutting boards, utensils, countertops, and any other surface that comes into contact with food.

Use the right cleaning products

Use cleaning and sanitising products that are approved for use on food contact surfaces. Follow the instructions on the label carefully, and ensure that the product is allowed to sit on the surface for the recommended amount of time to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Separate cleaning tools

Use separate cleaning tools for food contact surfaces and non-food contact surfaces. This helps prevent cross-contamination from non-food contact surfaces, which can harbour harmful bacteria.

Scrub thoroughly

When cleaning food contact surfaces, use a scrub brush or scouring pad to remove any dirt or debris. Rinse the surface thoroughly with clean water to remove any residual soap or cleaning solution.

Monitor cleanliness

Use visual inspections, ATP testing, or other methods to monitor the cleanliness of food contact surfaces regularly. If any surfaces appear dirty or show signs of contamination, they should be cleaned and sanitised immediately.

Replace damaged surfaces

Replace any food contact surfaces that are chipped, cracked, or otherwise damaged. These areas can harbour bacteria and other microorganisms that are difficult to remove.

Can Operandio help me clean and maintain my food contact surfaces?

Operandio is an effective software solution for helping workers clean and maintain their food contact surfaces thanks to its many features, including;

  • The ability to delegate cleaning and inspection tasks easily amongst staff
  • Progress tracker so you can be sure that tasks are completed on time
  • Extensive knowledge base so everyone understands cleaning protocols
  • Procedure storage that makes updates simple
  • Messaging services that allow for streamlined communication and feedback

Request a demo for Operandio today!