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    • Explain the process for washing hands.
    • List examples of how and when to wash hands.
    • Differentiate between cleaning and sanitizing.
    • List examples of how and when to clean and sanitize the kitchen.






    Food handlers can be a significant source of harmful microorganisms that cause illness; thus, washing your hands regularly using proper techniques is one of the most important aspects of working in food service. Doing so helps reduce the incidence of spreading germs, including viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens, including those that might exist on raw foods as you prepare them.

    While handwashing seems fairly straightforward, food handlers may not use the correct techniques or allow sufficient time to properly wash their hands. Anyone who handles food must always wash their hands with soap and running water; hand sanitizers are not recommended as a substitute for handwashing. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against using alcohol-based hand sanitizers in lieu of handwashing because these products do not adequately reduce important foodborne pathogens on food handlers’ hands, especially bacterial spores, certain viruses, or other protein-based microorganisms. Also, the ingredients in a hand sanitizer product must be approved food additives by the FDA, since the ingredients from the hand sanitizer can become part of the food in trace amounts by a food handler. (The FDA defines indirect food additives as “those that become part of the food in trace amounts due to its packaging, storage or other handling.” All materials coming in contact with food must be proven to be safe “before they are permitted for use in such a manner.”)

    Handwashing should always be done at a designated handwashing sink once you have entered the kitchen (even if you washed your hands after using the restroom). The handwashing sink should be labeled as such and stocked with hot and cold running water, hand soap, single-use paper towels or a hand dryer, and a garbage can.

    a food service sink fully stocked with disposable gloves and soap

    Wearing Single-Use Gloves

    Food handlers should not touch ready-to-eat foods with bare hands because doing so can transfer pathogens to food. Thus, wearing single-use (disposable) gloves that fit properly is another practice in the food service industry. Before wearing gloves, a food handler should wash their hands. Once gloves are on, they need to be changed frequently. Never wash or reuse gloves. Some examples of when gloves should be changed include:

    • Before handling any ready-to-eat foods
    • If changing tasks (e.g., chopping lettuce, then moving on to making a sandwich)
    • If the glove develops a tear
    • After gloves become dirty
    • After handling raw meat
    • After handling money
    • After taking out the trash
    A food service employee puts on disposable gloves for a food task

    Print out the following mini-poster and hang it in your kitchen facility to remind employees about proper glove-wearing practices.

    Proper Attire

    Food handlers should come to work in clean clothes. Not only does this give a professional appearance, but dirty clothes carry pathogens that can transfer to food and cause foodborne illness. Hair restraints (hat, hair net, or beard net) and clean aprons are staples for food handlers. Jewelry, including rings, watches, and bracelets, should not be worn during food handling for several reasons. These items can harbor bacteria and viruses that could contaminate the food. Jewelry can also fall into the food and present a choking hazard. A plain band ring is acceptable. Food handlers should also refrain from wearing nail polish or artificial nails because these can hide dirt or contaminate the food.

    Cleaning and Sanitation

    Kitchen Surfaces

    Cleaning food preparation surfaces is a necessary first step for effective sanitation. Cleaning refers to the removal of organic matter using appropriate cleaning chemicals under recommended conditions. By removing organic matter through proper cleaning, sanitizers are able to make contact with more of the food contact area.

    cleaning buckets color coded green and red and labeled for standard usage

    After thorough cleaning, sanitation is the next step. Sanitizing includes applying chemicals or heat to a properly cleaned area, reducing pathogens by 99.999 percent. Sanitation is not the same as sterilization, which is the complete removal of all organisms. Chemicals approved as sanitizers for food-contact surfaces in retail or food-service establishments are chlorine, iodine, and quaternary ammonium.

    Be sure to store chemicals in their original containers away from food storage and food preparation areas. If you do transfer a chemical to a new container, label the container with the chemical name, manufacturer's name and address, and potential hazards of the chemical.

    Any surface that touches food must be cleaned and sanitized. This includes cooking equipment (pots, pans, spatulas, forks, knives, cutting boards, food storage containers, plates, etc.) as well as food preparation surfaces, such as prep tables. Worn or cracked kitchen equipment should be replaced, as it cannot be adequately cleaned or sanitized and thus harbor harmful pathogens.


    If your facility has a three-compartment sink, the correct setup is as follows:

    Compartment 1

    Fill with water at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius).
    Add detergent.

    Compartment 2

    Fill with water.
    (Leave this compartment empty if you spray-rinse items.)

    Compartment 3

    Fill with water. Add the sanitizing solution.
    Important: be sure to check the product’s label to determine the proper temperature and concentration, as this varies among different types and brands of sanitizer chemicals.

    If your facility has a dishwasher, the following guidelines are recommended:

    • Scrape, rinse, or soak items before washing; presoak items with dried-on food.
    • Use the correct rack for the items you are washing. Do not overload the racks; allow space for water spray to reach all surfaces of the items.
    • If any items come out still dirty, rewash them.
    • Air dry all items once they come out of the dishwasher.
    • Check the water temperature, pressure, and sanitizer levels frequently to ensure they are within the correct ranges.

    If using heat sanitation methods, temperatures in a dishwasher must fall between 165 F and 194 F (74 C to 90 C) for stationary-rack, single temperature dishwashers, or at least 180 F (82 C) in all other high-temperature machines. For a three-compartment sink, the water temperature must be at least 171 F (77 C).


    What does it look like to follow proper handwashing steps and to clean and sanitize kitchen surfaces? The two video clips below address the importance of practicing good hygiene and proper dishwashing procedures.

    eFoodHandlers Basic Food Safety Chapter 2: Health and Hygiene video:

    eFoodHandlers Basic Food Safety Chapter 5: Cleaning and Sanitizing video:

    In addition, the following video outlines the essential steps for dishwashing, using a three-compartment sink.


    Watch this video to learn about proper dishwashing in a 3-compartment sink.


    As a food handler, it is critical you know how to keep yourself and your work environment as clean as possible to minimize the transfer of pathogens to the food you prepare. The two tables below provide detailed information on the “how and when” of handwashing and cleaning and sanitizing. Use the Food Safety Cleaning and Sanitizing summary information from North Carolina State University Extension and familiarize yourself with the information about kitchen cleaning and sanitizing.



    1. Wet hands and arms. Use running water as warm as you can comfortably stand.
    2. Apply soap. Use enough to build up a good lather.
    3. Scrub hands and arms vigorously. Scrub for 20 seconds. Be sure to clean under fingernails and between fingers.
    4. Rinse hands and arms thoroughly. Use warm running water and rinse for at least 10 seconds.
    5. Dry hands and arms. Use single-use paper towels or a hand dryer. Do NOT use your apron or any other part of your uniform. Do NOT use a multiuse kitchen towel.
    6. Turn off faucet. Use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.
    7. Throw paper towel away. Use a hands-free, covered, foot-peddled waste receptacle to throw away the paper towel.


    • When you arrive to work
    • Every time you return to the kitchen
    • Before putting on single-use gloves
    • Between different jobs in the kitchen
    • Before or after handling raw, fresh, or frozen poultry, fish, or meat
    • After taking out the garbage, handling dirty dishes, mopping, or sweeping
    • After using the restroom
    • After coughing, sneezing, wiping, or blowing your nose
    • After handling chemicals that might make food unsafe
    • After touching your hair or your face
    • After using the telephone
    • After handling money
    • After eating, drinking, or smoking
    • After touching anything that might contaminate your hands

    Clean and Sanitize Surfaces and Equipment


    1. Scrape or remove food and debris from the surface. Use towels or other equipment as necessary.
    2. Wash the surface. Use the correct cleansing chemical for the job.
    3. Rinse the surface. Make sure to thoroughly remove the detergent residue.
    4. Sanitize the surface. Use a sanitation solution that has been properly mixed to the correct strength.
    5. Allow the surface to air dry.


    • After you are finished using the surface or equipment
    • Before working with a different type of food
    • Any time you have to step away from the task and there is potential for the surface to have become contaminated
    • After four hours if the surface or equipment has been in constant use



    The Tri-Service Food Code is a comprehensive resource written for military food service personnel.  The purpose of the Tri-Service Food Code is to establish standardized military food safety standards, criteria, procedures, and roles for the safe handling of food to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.  This document details the specific processes and procedures that food service personnel serving military branches should adhere to.  Chapter Two contains information about responsibilities for personal cleanliness and hygienic practices. 

    Another resource for food service personnel is the FDA Food Code, 2013 edition, which is intended for all commercial food retail and preparation facilities. Sections 2-3 and 2-4 address the topics of personal cleanliness and hygienic practices. You may access a PDF of this document below or via Read pages 46-52, Personal Cleanliness, of the FDA Food Code. Write down two to three questions to discuss with your supervisor using the provided form. Ask your supervisor to clarify any questions you may have.



    It is important to know how and when to clean and sanitize your hands, kitchen equipment, and food preparation surfaces when working with food. Use the following posters from the Minnesota Department of Health and the National Restaurant Association (if your facility does not already use similar resources) and display them in your facility’s kitchen. Place them in areas where they will be seen by everyone who works in that area (for example, hang the handwashing poster near the handwashing sink).


    indirect Food additives“those that become part of the food in trace amounts due to its packaging, storage or other handling.” All materials coming in contact with food "must be proven to be safe" before they are permitted for use in such a manner (from USDA).
    Microorganismany living thing such as a bacterium, protozoan, and some types of algae or fungi that are too small to be seen by the unaided eye; they must be viewed under a microscope
    Pathogena microorganism that causes disease




    True or false? Food handlers can be a significant source of harmful microorganisms that cause illness; thus, washing your hands regularly using proper techniques is one of the most important parts of working in food service.


    When is it okay not to wash your hands in your food service kitchen?


    True or false? Hand sanitizers are a good substitute for handwashing in a food service kitchen.

    References & Resources

    Fraser, A. M., & Pascall, M. A. (2010). Cleaning and Sanitizing of Food-Contact Surfaces in Retail/Foodservice Establishments. Food Safety Magazine. Retrieved from

    Illinois Department of Human Services. (2011). Hand Washing Procedures for Food Service Staff Policy Number and Last Update. Retrieved from

    ServSafe. (2018). Retrieved from

    U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018). Industry and Regulatory Assistance and Training Resources. Retrieved from

    U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2010). Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives, and Colors.

    U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2006). Managing Food Safety: A Regulator’s Manual For Applying HACCP Principles to Riskbased Retail and Food Service Inspections and Evaluating Voluntary Food Safety Management Systems. Retrieved from