Stainless steel in commercial kitchens

The cleanliness of commercial kitchens is always a hot topic in the media, all too quickly, food vendors are identified rapidly and shamed. Like most business owners, you’d no doubt prefer to be in the public spotlight for all the right reasons rather than the bad.

This month we take a look at the all-important topic of keeping your commercial kitchen clean as well as the role stainless steel plays in your kitchen appliances and equipment.

Cleaning vs Sanitising – What’s the Difference?

Although the result may seem the same, there are significant differences between cleaning and sanitising.  Cleaning describes the process for the removal of dirt or other matter from a surface through the use of a detergent and water.  The sanitising process requires the removable or reduction of bacteria and microorganisms from surfaces to safe levels.

Sanitising is required on all surfaces which come in direct contact with food during the preparation or serving of food and includes all crockery, utensils and equipment.  Surfaces not used for food preparation only need to be cleaned, not sanitised.

To sanitise effectively, it is essential to pre-clean surfaces as disinfecting unclean surfaces does not produce satisfactory results.

Food preparation areas and the risk of food poisoning.

As every chef and restaurateur knows, careful food preparation is the heart of every successful kitchen.  However, one of the biggest challenges food vendors experience is that of sanitising and hygiene. Cleaning and disinfecting your food preparation area plays a vital role in the prevention of cross-contamination and food poisoning.

Food poisoning is a significant concern amongst food vendors, and for a good reason, in Australia alone, roughly 5.4 million cases occur annually, resulting in as many as 120 deaths.  Food poisoning occurs from direct contact with contaminated surfaces or other food-borne bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Imagine the implications for your business if found directly responsible for a food poisoning incident in your restaurant or food outlet.  Food poisoning can leave your company liable for the illness and losses your customers suffer.

The NSW Food Authority has strict guidelines for the handling and preparation of food to ensure all surfaces are clean and hygienic.  The Food Authority treats cleanliness and hygiene seriously and hands out severe penalties to businesses who fail to adhere to the act, publicly naming offenders on their shame list.

The dangers of porous surfaces in food preparation.

There are three primary food-safety hazards which all food vendors should be aware of and take preventative measures. The hazards are chemical, physical and biological.  Bacteria, viruses and parasites such as salmonella and hepatitis A are biological hazards.

The material used in the food preparation area can be a health safety concern.  Due to hygiene laws set by the Food Authority, stipulate surfaces must be non-porous, meaning the surface will not absorb water or other fluids, grease or food particles.

Stainless steel is the only genuinely inert surface suitable for commercial kitchens, especially in the area of food preparation.

Materials such as natural stone are very porous and thus prone to harbour bacteria, and the problem does not stop there.  Seams in vinyl, joins in wood, cracks in tiles and scratches or damaged surfaces can become a breeding ground for all sorts of bacteria, viruses and microorganisms.

When it comes to food preparation and stainless steel aces every other surface type, but not all stainless steel is equal.

What are the benefits of stainless steel in commercial kitchens?

For sanitising purposes, surfaces need to be able to withstand the long-term effects of abrasion, hot water and chemicals and meet the minimum grade requirements of 304.

The use of stainless steel has become commonplace in commercial kitchens due to its durability and the ease in which it can be cleaned and sanitised.  Practicality aside though, stainless kitchens look more professional and with so many kitchen appliances finished in stainless steel, it makes sense to keep everything uniform.

With stainless steel so prevalent in commercial kitchens, it makes sense to understand the best way to care for and clean these surfaces in your kitchen.

Before we delve into specifics, let’s take a look at what makes stainless steel difference from regular steel.

Stainless steel is a mixture of chromium, nickel, molybdenum, carbon and steel this inoxidable composite aids in the corrosive resistance of the material.

The mixture of chromium within the steel determines the steel grade and its use suitability for specific tasks.  The stainless steel type or series, for instance, vary in their resistance to stress, pitting and corrosion. Each stainless steel composite has its specific use and suitability for industries such as medical, industrial, commercial and domestic applications.

Every stainless steel series has a purpose.

There are four stainless steel series used in the Food and Beverage industry, they are;

Food Containers (Series 200): There are two primary types used for food containers.  Series 200 is most commonly used in food containers for affordability but offers less corrosion resistance than 304 series used in high-quality items.

Kitchen Appliances & Cutlery (Series 304): Commonly used on kitchen appliances, preparation tables and cutlery due to its durability, affordability, shine and corrosion resistance.

Range Hoods (Series 316): Typically used for range hoods due to their frequent exposure to corrosive agents and kitchen salts

High-end Cutlery (Series 410 and 440): One of the most durable and resilient forms of stainless steel, used to craft quality chef knives and appliance parts. Hard wearing, durable and corrosion resistant.

A great resource to learn more about stainless steel production, grading and the myths that surround stainless steel is here.

Can stainless steel rust or tarnish?

Theoretically, stainless steel resists corrosion and rust, however, it is incorrect to say that it cannot rust.  Several factors determine the resilience of stainless steel, they are;

  • The stainless steel series
  • The use the series is intended
  • Contamination with other metals on the surface of the metal.

Steps in the cleaning and sanitising process.

The Australian Food Standards Code sets out six steps for effective cleaning and sanitising, based on hand-washing items in a double sink.  One sink is filled with detergent and hot water while the other filled with sanitiser and warm water.

The six steps in the cleaning and sanitising process are:

  1. Pre-clean: scape food scraps from surfaces and rinse with water.
  2. Wash: remove grease and food residues with hot water and detergent and soak dishes when required.
  3. Rinse: rinse to remove any detergent or other residues.
  4. Sanitise: use a sanitiser to destroy any remaining microorganisms.
  5. Rinse Again: Wash off the sanitiser if necessary, check the manufacturer’s instructions.
  6. Dry: allow to drip dry or use single-use towels

Australian standards stipulate that sinks used for sanitising crockery and cutlery have a set hot water temperature of no less than 80°C.  Ensure the water temperature remains constant by regularly checking with a thermometer during the sanitation process.

What areas to clean and sanitise and how often.

The Australian Food Standards code stipulates that all surfaces that come into contact with food must look, feel and smell clean.  All visible food waste, dirt and grease must be removed.

Schedule for cleaning and sanitising items around the kitchen

* Some appliances such as meat or salad slicers should be cleaned and sanitised every 4 hours.  Blenders require cleaning after each use.

When it comes to cleaning stainless steel surfaces which do not require sanitising, it is amazing the results you can achieve with just warm water and a lint-free cloth.  Using a specially designed cleaning product will produce guaranteed results, however, is generally the most expensive.

The safe use of sanitisers.

Sanitisers vary significantly in their use and level of toxicity, so be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before use.  The majority of sanitisers require rinsing after use while chlorine dioxide does not as considered food-safe.

An example of sanitisers which require rinsing are those that are;

  • Chlorine-based
  • Iodine-based
  • Quatemary ammonium compounds

Chlorine: based sanitisers are harsh on surfaces and clothing, and diminishes in strength and effectiveness shortly are dilution.

Quatemary: solutions store well and extremely effective in killing germs and relatively affordable.  Cleaner Solutions curated a great article on cleaning and disinfecting your commercial kitchen which is a very worthwhile read.

Iodine: Iodine has a variety of practical uses such as cleaning wounds and even purifying water.  Some commercial kitchens use iodine for sanitising purposes.

Some important tips to remember are;

  • Ensure all surfaces are pre-cleaned to remove grease, food residue and dust before using a sanitiser.
  • Leave sanitisers on for sufficient time to be effective, follow the manufacturers’ recommendation.
  • Use the correct dilution for its intended use, clearly label and store bottles.

Why regularly changing your linen is essential.

Linen can harbour dangerous levels of bacteria, which can lead to cross contaminate of food.  Tea towels are especially prone contamination and wet and damp towel quicken bacteria growth. There are a few simple steps to help manage the risks;

  • Change tea towels regularly, in busy kitchens; towels need replacement several times a shift
  • Keep all linen; tea towels, hand towels and table linen in a clean and dry location
  • Ensure that there is a ready supply of hand towels around the kitchen to prevent the accidental use of tea towels, swap these out regularly.

Storage of cleaning items, chemicals and sanitisers.

Incorrect storage of your cleaning items can lead to contamination.  It is a good idea to have designated containers to place wipes, scourers and brushes dependant on their use to prevent cross-contamination.

Here are some simple tips in managing chemicals and sanitisers;

  • Store chemicals in a secure and dry location away from preparation and washing areas.
  • Ensure all bottles are clearly marked, i.e., those intended for cleaning and those intended for sanitising and those for food preparation areas.
  • When mixing chemicals or sanitisers ensure you use proper eye protection and gloves as fluids can be absorbed through skin pores.


Keeping kitchens clean and sanitised requires a methodical and systemised approach.  We recommend creating a schedule for every cleaning job in your kitchen and carefully defining the regularity of each task.

Through responsible delegation and supervision of these tasks enables you to manage the process of keeping your kitchen as a whole clean, sanitised and safe.