The retention of bacteria on food contact surfaces increases the risk of cross-contamination of these microorganisms to food. The risk has been considered to be lowered when the surfaces are dry, partly because bacterial growth and survival would be reduced. However, some non-spore-forming bacteria might be able to withstand dry conditions on surfaces for an extensive period of time. In this study the survival of Salmonella enteritidis, Staphylococcus aureus and Campylobacter jejuni on stainless steel surfaces at different initial levels was determined at room temperature. The transfer rates of these pathogens from kitchen sponges to stainless steel surfaces and from these surfaces to foods were also investigated. Staph. aureus was recovered from the surfaces for at least 4 days when the contamination level was high (10(5) CFU/cm2) or moderate (10(3) CFU/cm2). At low levels (10 CFU/cm2), the surviving numbers decreased below the detection limit (4 CFU/100 cm2) within 2 days. S. enteritidis was recovered from surfaces for at least 4 days at high contamination levels, but at moderate level, the numbers decreased to the detection limit within 24 h and at low level within 1 h. C. jejuni was the most susceptible to slow-air-drying on surfaces; at high contamination levels, the numbers decreased below the detection limit within 4 h. The test microorganisms were readily transmitted from the wet sponges to the stainless steel surfaces and from these surfaces to the cucumber and chicken fillet slices, with the transfer rates varied from 20% to 100%. This study has highlighted the fact that pathogens remain viable on dry stainless steel surfaces and present a contamination hazard for considerable periods of time, dependent on the contamination levels and type of pathogen. Systematic studies on the risks of pathogen transfer associated with surface cleaning using contaminated sponges provide quantitative data from which a model of risks assessment in domestic setting could lead.