I’m too Busy to Wash my Hands!

This is part two of a four-part series on building a food safety culture in your establishment by Francine L. Shaw, president, Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc.

Several years ago, I walked into a kitchen to conduct an audit. The head chef had five pairs of single-use gloves layered on his hands. When I questioned his behavior, he pointed to the sink and stated, “Ma’am, the sink is way over there. I don’t have time to walk that far every time I need to wash my hands!”

I couldn’t believe it. I’m sad to say that I’ve actually seen many people—including professionally trained kitchen staff—practice this erroneous behavior.

Oftentimes during kitchen inspections, trainings and audits, I tell foodservice employees to change their single-use gloves and wash their hands. I also explain that single-use gloves are only effective when used properly: one pair at a time, with proper handwashing each time they’re changed.

I’ve witnessed restaurant employees wear and not change their single-use gloves when opening cooler doors, checking cellphones, touching their hair or face, handling money, or touching other objects, such as doorknobs, menus, garbage bags, etc. These are all examples of classic cross-contamination, yet they happen daily because employees either don’t realize the danger or don’t feel they have time to wash their hands.

Handwashing with soap stops the spread of disease and can save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. Each year, 19 million people get food poisoning due to improper handwashing. Improper handwashing can lead to each of the Big 6 Foodborne Illnesses:

  1. Hepatitis A virus
  2. Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli (STEC)
  3. Norovirus
  4. Salmonella Typhi
  5. Salmonella Non-Typhoidal (NTS)
  6. Shigella

Not to mention Staphylococcus aureus and more. Again, simple mistakes like a lack of handwashing or improper use of single-use gloves can sicken or even kill your guests and potentially destroy your brand.

Everyone assumes tragedies happen to the other guy. Well, what if the other guy is you? A foodborne illness or outbreak can destroy your company’s reputation, result in lawsuits and potentially put you out of business.

Norovirus is the most common foodborne illness. It affects 1 in 15 people (approximately 20 million Americans) and causes 570 to 800 deaths annually. Norovirus is 100% preventable. On average, each of us gets Norovirus five times during our lifetime, leading to horrible gastrointestinal distress. If an employee neglects to wash their hands after using the restroom, one gram of fecal matter on the hands can host 1,000,000,000,000 germs! Norovirus is highly contagious and easily spreadable from dirty hands to food and other surfaces. Therefore, norovirus is a huge threat within the food service industry.

Several recent studies indicate that employees come to work even when they’re sick and 70% of infected workers cause about 70% of reported norovirus outbreaks. It takes as few as 18 norovirus cells to cause illness and there is no cure. Hand sanitizers do not prevent norovirus. The only way to prevent norovirus is to wash your hands regularly and properly.

Norovirus can persist for days and even weeks on surfaces. Cold, moist conditions help it survive even longer. On hard surfaces, such as faucets, counters and door handles, the virus can survive up to 12 hours. On soft surfaces, such as carpet, norovirus can thrive up to 12 days. Some studies say the virus can persist even longer.

To help prevent norovirus, don’t allow employees to work while they are vomiting or have diarrhea, and then not for at least 24 hours after these symptoms stop.

Follow these steps to reduce the risk of any outbreak:

  1. Wash hands with soap and hot water (a minimum of 100 degrees);
  2. Apply soap;
  3. Scrub hands well, including in between fingers and under fingernails;
  4. Rinse under clean running water;
  5. Dry with clean, single-use towel;
  6. Turn faucet off with towel;
  7. Use towel to open door;
  8. Wash hands again when you return to your work station; and
  9. Implement a double handwashing policy. Wash your hands once in the restroom and again when returning to the work station.

Make sure good hygiene is part of your food safety culture. Proper and regular handwashing can significantly help prevent food safety incidents and outbreaks, so make sure that your employees are washing their hands!

Francine L. Shaw is President of Food Safety Training Solutions, Inc., which offers numerous services, including consulting, food safety education and inspections, crisis management training, curriculum development, responsible alcohol service training, and more. Her team has more than 100 combined years of industry experience in restaurants, hotels, casinos, and convenience stores. Francine has been featured as a food safety expert in numerous media outlets, including the Dr. Oz Show, the Huffington Post, Food Safety News, and Food Management Magazine.

One thought

  1. Hand washing is essential and the kitchen designer must provide hand sinks at convenient locations. Disposable paper towels should be available at many locations. The use of plastic gloves is very controversial and often mandated by the whim of the health inspector. Basically gloves should be worn when handling food that will no longer be cooked, such as dishing out pastries or salads. Wearing gloves while boning meat or when working on the sauté station is silly and potentially dangerous. There is also the environmental issue, where will all the billions of cloves go generated by hospitals. first responders and now by restaurants?

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