Washing your hands regularly can feel like a chore sometimes — but it’s always worth the extra 20 seconds of your time.
Handwashing helps keep you and the people around you healthy
Handwashing helps keep you healthy by cleaning your hands of germs. Good hand hygiene plays a major part in protecting you from getting sick both in and outside the kitchen.
When you work in a commercial kitchen, hand hygiene becomes even more important. Germs on hands account for 89% of foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to food handlers. Not only will you protect yourself by keeping your hands clean, you’ll also protect your coworkers and customers.
Even though you can’t see them, germs are everywhere. Every time you touch something, you pick up new germs and spread germs that were already on your hands. Even wearing gloves can’t guarantee that you’re not spreading germs to your customer’s food.
Think about your customers for a minute. Chances are, most of the people you serve are people you don’t know well. You don’t know their struggles or what’s going on in their lives. They could have a weak immune system and you’d never know just by looking at them. People with weak immune systems are more likely to get sick from contaminated food.
As a food worker, you have a responsibility to do everything you can to keep the food you work with safe from contamination. One of the best ways you can do that is to wash your hands regularly.
Five scenarios when you should always wash your hands
There are five scenarios when you should always wash your hands:
1. After using the bathroom
Have you ever had the stomach flu? Also called the 24-hour flu, food poisoning, and gastroenteritis, stomach flu is nearly always caused by norovirus.
Norovirus is an extremely contagious illness and is the most common cause of foodborne illness. It causes diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, body aches, and fever.
Norovirus germs are mainly found in feces. They typically find their way to food when people don’t wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.
To prevent norovirus and other germs from contaminating food you prepare, wash your hands twice after every bathroom visit. Wash them once in the bathroom sink and again in a handwashing sink, before you resume working.
2. Before handling food (even if you use gloves)
Remember, gloves aren’t magic. When used correctly, they can go a long way toward protecting food from the germs on your hands. But to keep your gloves clean, you have to keep your hands clean too.
Anytime you’re about to start handling food, whether you’re just starting your shift or just got off a break, you should begin by washing your hands. Even if you use gloves, you must wash your hands before putting on a fresh pair.
If you don’t wash your hands before putting on gloves, the germs on your hands can easily transfer to the surface of the gloves. If that happens, your gloves will contaminate food just as your unwashed hands would. You can avoid that by making handwashing a habit.
3. When switching tasks
To keep your hands (or gloves) from becoming contaminated, also wash your hands whenever you switch tasks. For example, if you just took out the garbage, you should wash your hands before you start delivering food orders to customers.
You never know what kinds of germs will be on different objects. Your cell phone alone could be carrying up to 25,127 bacteria per square inch. Play it safe by washing your hands.
4. Every four hours
Germs can multiply to dangerous levels in about four hours at room temperature. That means even if you started your shift by washing your hands, the germs you picked up since then could have grown to a point that they could make someone sick.
Even if you spent the last four hours doing the exact same task, you need to wash your hands at this point. After you finish washing your hands, put on fresh gloves.
5. Anytime you think your hands might have become contaminated
We all know that sometimes stuff just happens. Maybe you accidentally touched something nasty, or you had to sneeze.
It doesn’t matter what happened or how long it’s been since you last washed your hands. If you think your hands may have become contaminated by something, wash them again. If you’re wearing gloves, wash your hands and then put on a new pair.
In a busy kitchen, handwashing may sometimes feel like a chore. But taking that extra 20 seconds to wash your hands is an essential part of staying healthy inside and outside of work. Your customers will thank you for it.
— Jessica Pettit
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