Food workers washed their hands in only 27% of activities

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Food Worker Handwashing with water and soap and Food Preparation EHS-Net Study

The spread of germs from the hands of food workers to food is a fundamental cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants. It caused 89% of outbreaks in which food workers contaminated food. Proper handwashing with water and soap can reduce germs on workers’ hands. It can also reduce the spread of germs from hands to food and from food to other people.
Improving food worker handwashing practices is critical. But first, we need to know about current practices. We interviewed and watched food workers collect data on these practices.

What the Study Found?

Workers carried out about nine work activities an hour that should have involved handwashing. Yet, handwashing rates were low. These rates suggest that workers either do not know when to wash their hands or sometimes choose not to wash their hands.
Handwashing rates were highest before food preparation, suggesting that some workers may know that food needs to be protected from dirty hands.
Handwashing with water and soap rates were lowest after workers touched their bodies (for example, after scratching their noses). Workers may not know they need to wash their hands after touching their bodies or may think it takes too much time to wash their hands every time they touch their bodies. They also may not be aware that they are touching their bodies.
Workers wearing gloves when handwashing should occur less likely to wash their hands at that point than were workers who were not wearing gloves at the exact moment. For example, workers wearing gloves while preparing raw animal products were less likely to wash their hands when they were done than workers who were not wearing gloves. This suggests that glove use may lead to less handwashing.

EHS-Net Recommends

Restaurant management and food safety programs should
• Work to improve handwashing rates, particularly after activities involving raw meat.
• Revise food preparation activities to lower the number of needed handwashings. For example, a sandwich-making process could be revised to lower the number of times to handle raw meat. This would lower the
number of handwashings needed and increase the odds that workers will wash their hands.
• Occasionally carry out observations like those done for this study to show where progress in handwashing is needed.
Researchers should research factors that affect handwashing and explain the link between glove use and handwashing. This information could be used to address barriers to effective handwashing and ultimately reduce illness.

Based on the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommendations, when workers need to wash hands.

  • Eating,
  • Drinking,
  • Using tobacco,
  • Coughing,
  • Sneezing,
  • Using tissue,
  • Preparing raw animal products,
  • Handling dirty equipment, and
  • Touching the body (such as scratching your nose).
The research was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net). EHS-Net is a federally funded collaboration of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists.
Soapy CleanMachine technology can help with the FDA requirements and support educational and gamified hand washing practices.
SoapyWisdom generates compliance data visibility and helps business leaders to make an accurate decision according to the business liability policy.
Learn more about food poisoning and hand hygiene in an interview with Food Hygiene Consultant Dr. Marina Kazakevitch.

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