Food handlers can use a variety of tools and equipment at work, but few get more use than hands. You use your hands to open doors, adjust aprons, prepare food, wipe counters, ring customers up—the list goes on. Because your hands touch just about everything, they tend to pick up a lot of germs. Those germs can then spread to anything you touch later.
The good news is that there is a simple solution to this problem: wash your hands, and wash them often!
What is the purpose of hand washing?
89% of foodborne illness outbreaks attributed to food handlers are caused by germs on hands. Even when you’re healthy, you carry germs on your hands. For example, one in four people have staph bacteria on their skin or in their noses. If the bacteria stay there, they are generally harmless. But if they get into food and start to multiply, they can cause foodborne illness. That’s why handwashing is so important!
Your workplace should have handwashing sinks in or near the areas where food is prepared or served and dishes are washed. You should also have handwashing sinks in or just outside of the bathroom. Handwashing sinks must have warm water, soap, paper towels or an air dryer, and a sign reminding employees to wash their hands. If the handwashing station offers paper towels, there should also be a garbage can to dispose of them. Let your manager know if a handwashing sink is ever out of supplies.
How to wash your hands
To wash your hands at a handwashing station:
- Turn on warm water and wet your hands.
- Apply soap. Soap helps remove the dirt, oils, and germs from your hands.
- Scrub your hands for 10 to 15 seconds. Make sure to scrub between your fingers and under your fingernails. According to the FDA Food Code, most germs try to hide around and under your fingernails. If your workplace provides a nailbrush at handwashing stations, use it! And remember to scrub hard. Scrubbing under running water is key to getting germs off your hands.
- Rinse the soap from your hands.
- Dry your hands using a disposable paper towel or an air dryer.
How long to wash hands:
Altogether, these handwashing steps should take you about 20 seconds.
When should your hands be washed?
You should wash your hands anytime you think that they might be contaminated, and in all of the following scenarios:
- Before putting on gloves
- After handling raw meat
- After coughing or sneezing
- After touching your skin or hair
- After eating, drinking, or using tobacco
- After touching dirty equipment and utensils
- After you use the bathroom, both in the bathroom and again when you return to your work area
Always take time to wash your hands
Handwashing is always worth the time to do it properly. Twenty seconds now could save someone hours of vomiting and diarrhea. It could also save you from the more awkward aspects of outbreak investigations. (Stool samples, anyone?)
It may seem small, and you may not always feel appreciated for the time you take to wash your hands during a busy shift. Let us say it now—thank you for washing your hands! You’re helping to keep your customers safe.
Need a food handlers card? Check out the StateFoodSafety Food Handler Training course.
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— Katie Heil