Restaurant cleanliness: Importance of cleaning & sanitation in food industry

Editorial Team

16 min read
waitress sweeping in restaurant

Restaurant hygiene is incredibly important for successful restaurant operations. This is due to the fact that foodborne illnesses from bacteria and viruses could lead to major problems for diners, your business reputation, and your ability to stay in business.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 48 million people who get sick from foodborne illness each year, with 128,000 requiring hospitalization. An estimated 3,000 people in the U.S. die each year due to foodborne illness.

Recent surveys confirm the importance of cleaning and sanitizing in food industry establishments for building customer confidence and in influencing diner choice. A recent survey by P&G Professional found more than 92% of Americans say it’s very important to see a visibly clean restaurant when they’re dining indoors, outdoors, and when ordering takeout. When people see dirt or grease at a restaurant, 82% say they lose their appetite. Moreover, 70% of Americans want restaurants to be transparent about the cleaning products they use.

City and state health departments monitor local restaurants to ensure they’re following food safety management program guidelines. Otherwise, restaurants may receive health code violations. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) publishes an updated annual FDA Food Code, which is a model to ensure food safety and to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses within restaurants and other food establishments.

Additionally, in order for restaurant leaders to operate as a certified safe food handler, such as managers and chefs, they must pass assessments related to food safety and risks like foodborne illnesses.

Cleaning and sanitizing in restaurants is an essential part of food safety. Restaurant strategies and technologies are constantly improving which can help transform and ensure food health and safety. In this guide, learn about properly cleaning the restaurant and items such as silverware, as well as how to help prevent cross contamination and other risks in the back of house.

Current landscape for restaurant cleaning procedures

There are numerous challenges in maintaining cleanliness in restaurants, and most have been exacerbated post-pandemic. A survey by Stratus Building Solutions found 80% of Americans have become extra-cautious of germs at restaurants since the pandemic.

New food safety risks are constantly introduced at restaurants, in situations including:

  • Whenever a new hire comes on board and needs to be trained in restaurant cleaning procedures
  • Whenever diners turn over
  • Whenever a restaurant introduces a new dish, which may require additional training for safely handling new ingredients and executing cooking procedures
  • When food staff don’t properly follow cleaning and sanitation procedures
  • When guests introduce safety risks without the restaurant team’s knowledge, such as illness or unsafe bodily fluids

To prevent risks like these, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets forth standards for restaurant sanitation. These include:

  • Maintain dry, clean floors: Clean up spills and slip hazards immediately, communicate hazards to staff and guests via signage and verbal communication, and use drainage and dry standing places in spaces where wet processes are used.
  • Handle food safely: Follow best practices for safe food handling, including wearing protective gloves, keeping food at optimal temperatures and out of dangerous temperature zones where germs and bacteria are more likely to spread, and avoiding cross contamination (such as mixing raw meat with cooked vegetables, etc.).
  • Maintain fire safety: Clearly communicate fire exits to staff and guests, and keep fire handling equipment like extinguishers in easily accessible, visible locations
  • Ensure optimal working conditions: Make sure employees have the space they need to do their jobs safely, maintain healthy air quality and temperature, and provide employees with personal protective equipment for protecting themselves from risks like burns and cuts.
  • Enforce age limitations: Each state has minimum age requirements for working in a restaurant, as well as for various duties that can be performed based on age, and for serving and bartending beer, wine, and spirits.

A list of restaurant health code violations that are most common, as reported by Foodservice News, include:

  • Exteriors are in unsanitary conditions.
  • Kitchen equipment is visibly dirty.
  • Walk-in freezers are poorly maintained.
  • Dirty rags are used to clean food contact surfaces and equipment.
  • Food isn’t kept at recommended temperatures in buffets.
  • No supply of potable water in the food preparation area.
  • Moisture and grease build-up on floors, walls, and distribution piping.
  • Water pooling on floors and intersections.
  • Employees aren’t wearing personal protective equipment.
  • Employees aren’t following proper handwashing procedures.

Proper training can help ensure employees follow the right health and safety standards in your restaurant.

Restaurant cleaning equipment list

To help prevent the spread of germs and bacteria in our restaurant, some of the most common restaurant cleaning supplies you’ll need include the following:

  • Restroom products: hand washing soap, commercial-grade paper towels, toilet seat covers and dispensers, plungers, restroom cleaning brushes, baby changing stations, urinal cakes, and sanitary napkin receptacles
  • Cleaning tools: rags, sponges, brushes, dusters, brooms, dust pans, mops and mop wringers, microfiber cleaning polishing cloths, cleaning chemicals, window squeegees, bottles and sprayers, commercial vacuums, floor sweepers, and window strip washers
  • Safety goods: protective shields and dividers, disposable gloves, wet floor signs, and first-aid kits
  • Waste receptacles: trash and recycling cans, cigarette and ash receptacles, and trash bags
  • Kitchen safety products: handwashing stations with soap and sanitizer dispensers
  • Cookware washing supplies: bottle brushes, pot and pan brushes, dish soap, and flatware soakers
  • Commercial floor mats: grease-resistant and grease-proof floor mats, and floor and carpet protection mats

The exact cleaning products you need will depend on factors such as the type of food you prepare and serve, what kind of flooring you have, how many kitchen stations you have, and other details. Refer to proper food safety guidelines that apply to your unique restaurant operations to choose the materials that help you meet them.

Strategies for transforming restaurant hygiene

A proactive focus on restaurant hygiene can help ensure your restaurant is safe for staff and diners at all times. Restaurant owners should regularly audit staff cleaning and sanitation procedures to ensure there aren’t dangerous violations that could impact your customers or operations.

With an increased focus on consumer safety post-pandemic, many restaurant owners are exploring the use of innovative cleaning solutions. Some interesting types of cleaning technology that restaurants have started adopting include:

  • A far-UVC lighting fixture product that passively and continuously sanitizes rooms and inactivates harmful microbes
  • Ozone gas sanitation
  • Massive fans that suck air from dining rooms
  • Light fixtures that draw air in through a charcoal filter and expose it to UVC and UVA light to sanitize it
  • Roaming disinfecting robots that automatically cleanse both aerosol and surface spaces with UVC lights and deliver data on what was covered and when
  • Electrostatic sprayers that disinfect surfaces quickly and effectively
  • Vacuums that utilize HEPA filters to remove allergens, dust particles, and pathogens

There are also higher-grade sanitation products available today, as well as simple measures like plastic dividers that can provide extra protection at stations like checkout.

While cleaning technology like the above can help restaurants provide enhanced protection, consistently following the current health and safety standards for restaurant sanitation guidelines can also help adequately protect businesses.

Cleaning and sanitizing

Organizations like the CDC recommend that restaurants frequently clean “high-touch” spots, such as counters, doorknobs, and handrails with Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants. Restaurant owners can map out “touch zones” in the front and back of the house, restrooms, and everywhere else and create a cleaning schedule to ensure these areas are constantly disinfected.

A food contact surface must be cleaned and sanitized often to remove pathogens. When food contact surfaces aren’t in use, they should be fully disinfected as often as possible.

Kitchen equipment such as freezers, ovens, ranges, and other large equipment should also be regularly deep cleaned. This includes performing actions like deep cleaning ranges and ovens, defrosting and disinfecting freezers, and degreasing hoods and ventilation systems.

Dishware and utensils, both for chef use and customer use, also need to be sanitized before use. The three-sink system of cleaning dishes includes washing dishes in warm and soapy water, rinsing them, then soaking them in a sanitizing solution before they dry. Restaurants should properly label sinks and ensure the correct amount of sanitizing solution is used.

Restaurants can run into cleaning and sanitizing problems when they:

  • Use dirty cleaning materials, such as rags and sponges
  • Don’t use the proper amount of dish soap or sanitizing solutions
  • Neglect deep cleaning big restaurant equipment on a regular basis
  • Don’t constantly clean high-touch spots and food contact surfaces with the proper materials and methods

Assigning cleaning and sanitizing duties on a predetermined schedule can help restaurants ensure all equipment and surfaces are regularly cleaned correctly. Another added bonus is that diners who see cleaning in action may feel more confident in your restaurant’s cleanliness, which could be better for your business.

Personal hygiene

Your restaurant employees are very important in preventing the spread of germs and bacteria, and that starts with good personal hygiene practices. Staff should be properly trained to be aware of hygiene habits they may not be aware of, but that could negatively impact the safety standards at your restaurant.

For example, a study published in the “American Journal of Infection Control” found on average, people touch their face 23 times an hour, with 44% of those touches involving contact with mucous membranes. You can see how easy it can be for germs to invade your dishes.

It’s important to mandate strict hygiene standards for restaurant staff members, whether they’re cooking food in the kitchen, handing menus to diners, or bringing food to tables. These include:

  • Washing hands frequently and properly with hand soap and water for at least 20 seconds, including but not limited to after touching one’s face, after touching personal items like cell phones, after getting hands dirty with food, after going to the bathroom, after petting an animal, after handling cash or plastic forms of payment, after handling dirty dishes, before preparing food, after coughing or sneezing, and after shaking someone’s hand
  • Covering the nose and mouth with a tissue or bent elbow before sneezing or coughing
  • Avoiding touching their face
  • Staying home if sick
  • Practicing good personal hygiene, such as showering regularly

Bad personal hygiene practices, especially when they’re visible to diners, can be a major turn-off to customers and bad for business. For example, if a customer sees a server sneeze then grab their dish to bring it to their table, the diner may want to send their food back or leave your restaurant altogether. Poor personal hygiene practices can decrease trust diners have in your restaurant operations, including the back of house ones they can’t see.

Food handling

For safe food handling, the FDA recommends remembering the following four steps.

  1. Clean: Food handlers should ensure their hands are clean by washing them with warm water and hand soap. Wash surfaces and utensils before and after preparing food on and with them. Use disposable paper towels to dry surfaces, or wash cloth towels frequently in hot washing cycles. Rinse fresh produce, and scrub firm produce. Clean the lids of canned goods before you open them to prevent dust and germs from contaminating the food.
  2. Separate: Separate raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs from any other different ingredients when preparing them. Use different cutting boards and utensils for preparing raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs. Always clean utensils and surfaces that have handled raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs before using them for other ingredients. Don’t reuse marinades on raw foods.
  3. Cook: Use a food thermometer to ensure proper cooking of meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products. Cook foods to their safe minimum internal temperatures (different ingredients have different safe cooking temperatures) to destroy bacteria.
  4. Chill: Refrigerate or freeze meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and perishable items within two hours of cooking them or purchasing them. Refrigerate these ingredients within one hour if the temperature outside is 90°F or higher. Never thaw food at room temperature. Only defrost food using a proper method, such as in the refrigerator or in cold water. Always marinate foods in the refrigerators. Use shallow containers for leftover food for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

It’s also important to clearly mark ingredients with made-on and expiration dates. Use the first-in, first-out method to use ingredients that are closer to spoiling first, so that you can decrease food waste.

If a food handler cross contaminates ingredients, fails to use a thermometer when cooking, or employs any other unsafe food preparation process, you should throw out those ingredients, properly clean and sanitize the work station, and start over. Improper food handling could lead to issues as serious as death, so anyone who handles food at your restaurant must be trained in the proper methods and should be continually monitored.

Additionally, more diners today have food allergies and dietary restrictions than in past years. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 1 in 10 adults and 1 in 13 children have a food allergy or allergies. It’s important to properly communicate potential allergens in your menu to diners, and to train servers on what allergens are so they can communicate those to the guests they serve. When you’re preparing a dish for someone with a food allergy, extra kitchen precautions should be taken to avoid cross contamination that could result in illness.

Pest control

Unfortunately, every time a diner opens the door to your restaurant, there’s a risk of insects and other pests infiltrating your space. Pests can shut down restaurants and destroy reputations, so proper precautions are key.

To prevent pests, “Food Safety Magazine” recommends to:

  • Plant trees at least 8 feet away and shrubs at least 3 feet away from the restaurant building.
  • Install self-closing air curtains and doors.
  • Screen windows, doors, and exhaust vents.
  • Refrigerate food when it’s not in use.
  • Properly store food in closed containers.
  • Wash dirty dishes quickly instead of letting them build up.
  • Immediately clean up food and drink spills.
  • Frequently remove debris from drains, the floor, and wall intersections.
  • Keep at least 100 feet of space between the kitchen and trash disposal area.
  • Rinse out plastic, bottles, and cans before discarding them.
  • Regularly empty and clean dumpsters, and keep dumpster areas clean.
  • Regularly clean the exterior of your restaurant, and remove dirt and litter.
  • Keep windows and doors closed as often as possible.
  • Quickly repair or replace worn-out structures and cracked tiles.
  • Regularly sweep and mop floors.
  • Remove clutter, especially from areas near food.
  • Regularly clean kitchen sinks and drains.
  • Frequently empty and wash waste bins.
  • Regularly clean areas behind cooking equipment and gas ranges.
  • Clean areas around furniture.
  • Fix plumbing leaks and leaking faucets.
  • Use non-chemical and chemical treatments to kill insects, rodents, and lizards.
  • Hire an exterminator to inspect your restaurant on a regular basis.

A regular cleaning schedule can help prevent pests. You can assign duties on daily, weekly, and longer-term schedules to ensure all cleaning tasks are regularly completed. When your restaurant requires repairs, schedule them as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of pest infiltration.

It is also important to educate your staff on signs of pest infestation. Make sure your team regularly looks out for issues such as strong odors, the sight of pests, droppings, gnawing on or damage to packaging, and other irregular sights, smells, and sounds that could indicate pests. When you neglect to quickly deal with a pest problem, pests could breed and quickly damage more of your food, equipment, and supplies.

Empowering restaurateurs to elevate their cleaning practices

Regular cleanliness protocols can increase the safety for your staff and diners. It also enhances food quality and can increase consumer trust in your business.

Make cleaning and following proper health and safety standards a part of your daily operations routine. Some tips:

  • Include cleaning as part of training for all restaurant workers. Test workers on proper methods and procedures before they can start working at your restaurant.
  • Make cleaning procedures easily accessible, in an employee handbook workers can access at the restaurant. You can also post fliers for additional tips and education.
  • Regularly audit your practices. Continually test your workers on their knowledge. In all-staff meetings, integrate health and safety information into what you share with workers.
  • Go over health inspections with your team. Quickly address and correct any issues.
  • Use a checklist to make cleaning duty completion easier and more visible for your entire team.

Some restaurants incentivize workers to achieve higher levels of food safety knowledge through certification. For example, a server who has advanced food handler safety knowledge could be paid more per hour. Consider practices like these to motivate your staff to increase their food safety knowledge, which ultimately helps benefit your business.

Restaurant cleaning checklist


  • Sweep kitchen, pantries, walk-in fridges, and hard floor surface areas.
  • Clean floor mats with a hose, then spray with cleaner, and hang to dry.
  • Mop hard floors with sanitizer.
  • Immediately clean spills and splatter off floors, walls, ceilings, and surfaces.
  • Clean and sanitize countertops and all equipment surfaces.
  • Clean and sanitize food prep surfaces before and after preparing food.
  • Wash dirty dishes with warm and soapy water, then rinse and sanitize them before drying them.
  • Clean and sanitize meat and cheese slicers.
  • Clean and sanitize stovetops and cooking surfaces.
  • Wash reusable cleaning cloths, towels, aprons, and other laundry items.
  • Discard expired food and move soon-to-expire food forward.
  • Empty trash, recycling, and organic waste.
  • Clean, sanitize, and restock restrooms.
  • Clean menus.


  • Clean and sanitize sinks.
  • Clean beverage dispensers and soda gun heads.
  • Deep clean ovens, ranges, hoods, coffee machines, and other kitchen appliances according to appliance manuals.
  • Clean the exteriors of refrigeration units.
  • Empty grease traps.
  • Brush and scour grills.
  • Flush floor drains with drain cleaner.
  • Dust blinds, ceiling fans, and any wall and shelf decorations.
  • Clean table and chair legs.
  • Wipe down baseboards.


  • Clean refrigerator coils, drain pans, tubes, and air filters.
  • Clean the tops, walls, shelves, and bottoms of the interiors of walk-in and reach-in refrigerators.
  • Clean walls.
  • Empty and clean freezers.


  • Empty, clean, and descale ice machines.
  • Clean and sanitize dishwashers.
  • Deep clean fryers.
  • Clean stove hood exhaust fans.
  • Schedule routine plumbing and HVAC maintenance.

Keeping your restaurant clean is easy with the right tools

Maintaining a clean restaurant is an essential part of business. Neglecting to keep a restaurant clean could turn off customers and even result in a restaurant shut-down.

It’s important to follow restaurant best practices for cleaning, properly train staff, and conduct regular audits to ensure you continually keep your restaurant clean and free of hazards. Using a checklist can make things easier. Incentivizing your staff to pursue certification and continued education can also benefit your restaurant.

Every element in your restaurant can impact its cleanliness levels, including payment processing. Some customers may prefer touchless systems, where they can pay with their phone instead of having to hand money to their server.

Clover’s restaurant point of sale solutions enable servers to process payments right at their tables, including contactless payment options. We also make it easy to clean whatever Clover payment processing devices you use, with a cleaning knowledge base to sanitize your devices.

Why wait? Get started with a Clover POS system today to elevate your business.

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