An Experts Guide to When Must a Knife Be Cleaned and Sanitized

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Last Updated on April 20, 2021
Doug Stephen

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research,
he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.

Whether you are preparing fish, steak, or wild game, your knife must be clean and sanitized. Food and human hands are full of bacteria and viruses that can be easily passed on via your knife.

The last thing you want is for your knife to make you, your family, and dinner guests sick. So, you must know when and how to clean and sanitize your knife when preparing food. A clean knife not only keeps your kitchen healthy but can also help improve the taste of your BBQ feast. 

Here are four times when a knife must be cleaned and sanitized.

1. You Buy a New Knife

One of the most common mistakes people make is not cleaning their new knives. However, an employee has likely touched the knife during the packaging process, meaning bacteria from their hand may have been transferred onto your new knife. The packaging itself could be home to microorganisms that have made their way onto the knife's handle and blade.

Before you use your new knife to prepare food for the grill, give it a complete and thorough clean.

Read also: Knife Safety Tips.

2. Cutting Different Foods With the Same Knife

Many times when you are preparing your meal for the grill, you use one knife to cut different foods. For example, you use the knife to cut raw chicken, fish, and then again for the potatoes. Using a knife in this way can create cross-contamination between the foods and lead to food poisoning. You must clean and sanitize your knife before you use it to cut a different piece of food.

Even if you use one knife for a specific task, such as scaling fish, always clean your knife immediately after use. Leaving soiled knives on the counter or cutting board can lead to bacterial growth and contaminate other kitchen utensils.

3. When Multiple People Use the Same Knife

Sometimes more than one person can be preparing the food for the grill. This can lead to different people using the same knife. One of the fastest ways for bacteria and viruses to spread is through hand-to-hand contact. If multiple people are using the same knife, that means multiple hands are touching it, which heightens the chance of bacteria spreading.

Each time a new person handles the knife, it should be cleaned. Every user should also wash their hands before handling the knife. If at any point any user's hand touches the knife’s blade, it should be cleaned immediately.

4. After Sharpening Your Knife

It is critical to make sure the knives you use for grilling are sharp. It makes preparing your meal for the grill easier and allows you to chop and slice your meat safely with more control and less force. Regularly sharpening your knives also increases their lifespan.

However, once you have had your knife sharpened you need to clean and sanitize it. During the sharpening process, tiny pieces of metal, dust, and other substances called swarf can end up on the blade, potentially contaminating your food.

So, before you use your newly sharpened blade to slice fat off a buffalo steak or pork tenderloin for the grill, it’s vital that you clean and sanitize it to remove the metal buildup.

Knife Cleaning and Sanitizing Tips

Understanding when must a knife be cleaned and sanitized is crucial for a hygienic kitchen and ensuring that your knives function optimally. 

Here are some simple cleaning instructions to follow for food-safe knives:

  1. Wash your knife with dish soap and hot water after each use.
  2. Avoid abrasive scourers, and use a soft sponge to remove debris.
  3. Keep the blade pointed away from you or your fingers.
  4. Rinse with hot clean water.
  5. Air-dry or pat dry with clean paper towels.
  6. High-quality blades should never go in the dishwasher.
  7. Knives with wooden handles are not dishwasher safe. This will cause the wood to swell and rot.

Don’t forget the cutting boards and knife block you use must be as clean as your knife to prevent cross-contamination. To sanitize your plastic cutting boards, wash with soap and hot water to remove food debris, then soak in a mild solution of distilled white vinegar and water for 30 minutes. Rinse in clean water and dry completely before putting away.

BONUS Tip: Don’t Forget to Keep Your Knife Block Clean

Storage is another important factor that relates directly to your knife’s cleanliness. Knife blocks are often overlooked when cleaning the kitchen, but it's crucial that you take the time to clean your knife block.

The thin and deep slots of your knife block provide the perfect home for bacteria and mold, especially if they are made of untreated wood. That’s why it’s crucial to allow your knives to dry thoroughly before placing them back in the slots, as you need to prevent any moisture from getting inside.

To clean your knife block, wipe the exterior with hot soapy water and use a soft, slim brush such as a baby bottle brush to clean the interior of the slots. Rinse well, fill a tub with clean water, add hydrogen peroxide, and allow the block to soak for 5-10 minutes. Remove it from the sanitizing solution and rinse thoroughly under hot water, and air dry upside-down on a clean surface. The block must be completely dry before inserting any utensils.

Doug Stephen

Doug Stephen

A Clean Knife Means a Healthy Meal

Cleaning your knife is a vital step toward safer food preparation, but it is not enough to simple rinse it after each use. Soap and hot water are the best way to eliminate microorganisms and prevent them from contaminating your kitchen utensils and your food.

Clean and sanitize your knives between food preparation tasks and after someone else uses them to prevent cross-contamination. You should also give your knives a good scrub before using them for the first time and after sharpening. Sanitizing your chopping block and cutting boards can also reduce the risk of bacterial growth on your knife blades.

Preventative maintenance such as cleaning and sanitizing your knives protects your health and prolongs your knife’s performance by preventing rust buildup. Make knife sanitation a regular part of your cleaning routine to ensure a safer kitchen.