Hand Hygiene: What’s on Your Hands?

Have you thought about how many germs are on your hands? You’d be surprised at how easily your hands become contaminated and contribute to foodborne illnesses. In fact, 9 out of 10 foodborne illness outbreaks can be traced back to contaminated hands from food workers. The best way to combat that? Proper hand washing!

When to wash

It may seem like an easy task, but only a third of restaurant workers wash their hands when they should. Here are a few examples of when you should wash your hands:

  • Always wash your hands after completing tasks like taking out the trash or working at the cash register.
  • If you have been working for four continuous hours on one task, you should also wash your hands. Why the four hour rule? That’s the amount of time it can take for bacteria in time/temperature control for safety (TCS) foods to grow to unsafe levels.
  • You should also wash your hands when switching tasks, like after you have worked with raw meats and before chopping fruit and vegetables, as well as anytime you are putting on clean gloves.
  • Always wash your hands anytime you think they have become contaminated!

In addition to these, you should practice double handwashing after using the restroom and before preparing food. This is where you wash your hands twice: once in the restroom sink and once at the handwashing sink. Double handwashing ensures that those pesky germs, especially those that travel through the fecal-oral route, won’t contaminate food!

How to wash

Knowing when to wash your hands is great, but only half of what you need to do. Proper hand washing is crucial when it comes to food safety. It usually takes between 20-30 seconds. Follow these steps to ensure your hands are clean:

  1. Wet your hands under warm water.
  2. Apply soap.
  3. Wash and scrub hands for at least 15-20 seconds (about the amount of time it takes to sing the ABC song twice). Be sure to get between your fingers, under your fingernails, and around your wrists!
  4. Rinse off the soap.
  5. Dry your hands with a paper towel or air dryer.
  6. Carefully turn the water off. Avoid re-contaminating your hands by using a barrier, like a paper towel, to turn the handle.

Restrooms and other areas should have a poster or stickers to remind employees to wash their hands. In addition, training your employees about this topic is important. Start your training with StateFoodSafety’s free Hand Hygiene course.

You can also request resources, like stickers or our food safety calendar. For other food safety tips or for more information, check out our food handler training.

— Janilyn Hutchings

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Updated: 02/03/2021 — 9:50 am
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