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Clean THEN Sanitize: A One-Two Punch to Stop Foodborne Illness in the Kitchen

Posted by Meredith Carothers, MPH, and Chrystal Okonta, MSPH, Technical Information Specialists, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA in Research and Science
Jul 29, 2021
 5 hands with gloves wiping the table clean
Simply wiping or rinsing surfaces is not enough to kill harmful bacteria that may have spread around your kitchen while you were preparing food.


You’re about to sit down to a nice meal with a freshly cooked chicken breast. You have your dishes in the dishwasher and you’ve finished wiping down your surfaces. You’re done in your kitchen, right? Wrong! Whenever you cook raw meat or poultry, make sure you clean and THEN sanitize not just your surfaces but also the kitchen sink. Wiping or rinsing these areas is not enough to kill any bacteria that may have spread around your kitchen while you were preparing your food. Here’s your foolproof plan to leave your kitchen spotless and eliminate the germs you can’t see.

1.    Clean FIRST.
Cleaning is an important first step to make sure you are removing bacteria that can cause foodborne illness from your kitchen. To clean your surfaces and your kitchen sink, use warm, soapy water to wash these areas. Wipe them clean with single-use or paper towels. If you use kitchen towels for cleaning, they should be washed frequently in the hot cycle of your washing machine. And don’t forget to wash your hands with soap and running water to keep them clean too.

What does cleaning do? Cleaning is the first step to get rid of bacteria from these surfaces. Foodborne-illness causing bacteria can remain on surfaces for a very long time. Campylobacter can survive in your kitchen for up to 4 hours, and Salmonella can last for up to 32 hours (and both can be found on raw poultry). Cleaning with warm, soapy water can physically remove dirt, grim and some bacteria from a surface, but it does NOT kill bacteria. 

2.    THEN Sanitize.
Sanitizing is the second, but equally important step to removing bacteria from your kitchen. This step will kill any remaining bacteria. Many different sanitizers can be used: an easy homemade version is to make a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or you can use a commercial sanitizer or sanitizing wipe. Pour or spray your sanitizing solution on surfaces and wipe them clean with a paper towel. Be sure they are completely dry before using those surfaces or your sink again. If using commercial sanitizers, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the label. Some commercial sanitizers require food surfaces to be rinsed after using the sanitizer.

What does sanitizing do? Including a sanitizing step in your cleaning routine actually reduces the number of foodborne illness-causing pathogens that survive in your kitchen – sanitizing kills bacteria. However, sanitizing is most effective AFTER you have cleaned those surfaces. So, don’t skip the clean step!

Your dishwasher can also do an effective job of cleaning and sanitizing your utensils and cutting boards if they are made of materials that are non-porous (e.g. acrylic, plastic, glass, and solid wood) and are dishwasher safe. However, if you can’t or don’t want to put your cutting boards and utensils in the dishwasher, then wash them first and then use sanitizing solution to make sure they are clean AND sanitized. Pour your sanitizing solution on the cutting boards and let it stand for several minutes or use it as a soak for your utensils. Next, rinse them and air or pat them dry with clean paper towels. With these two steps, clean THEN sanitize, you can knock out any foodborne illness-causing bacteria in your kitchen! 

Category/Topic: Research and Science

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Apr 11, 2020

Can we use the bleach solution on quartz countertops ? Thank you!

Ben Weaver
Apr 14, 2020

@Janet - thank you for your comment. Using a bleach solution on this surface is perfectly safe. I hope this helps.

Apr 15, 2020

Bleaches are different brands and concentrations. What % concentration is to be used for this recipe of 1 TB bleach to 1 gallon water? Thank you.

Ben Weaver
Apr 20, 2020

@Lora - Great question! Typically, unscented household liquid chlorine bleach in the United States will be between 5-6% sodium hypochlorite. Though concentrations can be different in other countries, the recommendation in this blog is based off of bleach concentrations between 5-6%.

Mary Evonuk
Apr 18, 2020

What is the dilution rate for using Isoprophyl alcohol to clean plastic buckets?

Ben Weaver
Apr 20, 2020

@Mary Evonuk - Isopropyl alcohol alone is never recommended for cleaning surfaces. You should always first clean the area or item with soap and water or another detergent if it is dirty. Then, use a household disinfectant to sanitize the surface. Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol may also be used to sanitize.

Marianne Zimmerman
Apr 24, 2020

Can you use isopropyl alcohol to sanitize a granite countertop, then do you have to rinse the surface afterwards to make it food safe?

Ben Weaver
Apr 27, 2020

@Marianne Zimmerman - Isopropyl alcohol alone is never recommended for cleaning surfaces. You should always first clean the area or item with soap and water or another detergent if it is dirty. Then, use a household disinfectant to sanitize the surface. Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol may also be used to sanitize.

Lavern Battle
Nov 11, 2020

Thank you for publishing this article; it's very educational.

Aug 02, 2021

It would be helpful to know what are appropriate substances, liquids and chemicals are in commercial wipes that are sold retail.

Jordyn Simanton
Sep 13, 2021

I think that sanitation is very important because if you do not wipe off all of your supplies and wash your hands, bacteria can spread and stay on dishes. If you do not wash things of you will likely spread food diseases to people. So make sure that you sanitize and wash all of your surfaces and dish after you are done cooking.

Dillon Petty
Sep 13, 2021

I think that that was very helpful so now I know to clean and sanitize when cooking.

Sep 13, 2021

Sanitizing helps keep the kitchen environment safe from germs and illnesses.

Mike Dalton
Feb 09, 2022

When cooking food on pans that have been sanitized should you dry the surface of the sanitizer before placing raw food on the surface

Ben Weaver
Feb 28, 2022

@Mike Dalton - thank you for your comment. After sanitizing utensils, rinse them with clean water and air dry or pat them dry with clean towels. If using commercial sanitizers, make sure they are approved for use on utensils before using for this purpose. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the label for safe use. Some commercial sanitizers may require utensils to be rinsed after use.

May 18, 2022

Nice suggestion, I will do your food safety guidelines. Thanks, George

May 19, 2022

Thank you that was informative. I have a question about the disinfectant product made by the company Force of Nature it’s Hypochlorous acid. Could this be used to disinfect and do you have rise before you can use your dishes again?

Ben Weaver
May 23, 2022

@Jovona - thank you for your comment. For commercial types of sanitizers, we would recommend contacting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

Visit this EPA webpage to find regional contacts:
Mailing Addresses and Phone Numbers

Meanwhile, the following is what we recommend for consumers, in regards to effective sanitizing of surfaces at home:

  • After thoroughly washing food preparation surfaces, such as countertops and cutting boards, with hot, soapy water, you can sanitize them with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water. Let the solution stand on the surfaces for a few minutes; then air dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.

For additional questions as related to food safety at home, you can call our USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free 1-888-674-6854 between 10 am and 6 pm EST.

Thank you for your feedback, and we hope this is helpful.