Handwashing in the food industry is one of the first lines of defense in food safety. Along with being a consumer health risk, inadequate personal hygiene can lead to costly and reputation-destroying recalls. However, it’s not just the responsibility of individual employees to ensure proper handwashing procedures are followed. Managers must cultivate a culture of food safety where taking time-off from lines to wash up is encouraged. Facilities also must be equipped with adequate hand washing stations.
Not only will setting the scene and creating the culture for effective handwashing help protect consumers, it will also help protect your business.
When to Wash
Employees knowing when to wash their hands is just as important as knowing how to properly wash them. High-visibility signs posted around the facility can teach and remind employees about handwashing.
Signs posted around the facility make for great reminders, but the topic should also be covered in training seminars. Don’t forget to translate instructions in whatever languages required to communicate with all of your employees.
According to the 2005 FDA Food Code, hands should be washed:
- Before beginning work
- After touching bare skin (other than clean hands)
- After using the restroom
- After coughing, sneezing, or using a handkerchief or tissue
- After eating, drinking, or using tobacco
- After handling used/dirty equipment or utensils
- During food preparation to prevent cross-contamination
- When switching between raw and ready-to-eat food and ingredients
- Before putting on gloves when working with food
- After touching service animals or aquatic animals
- After any activities that would contaminate hands
Where to Wash
Permanent handwashing facilities should be set up near workspaces. They must be connected to a supply of warm, clean water. The 2005 FDA Food Code requires a minimum hand washing temperature of 100° F. The station should be cleaned frequently and be of adequate size for handwashing. The station should have a supply of soap and single-use towels or air dryers and be set up solely for the purpose of washing hands, arms, and faces. Making the set-up hands free through the use of automated sinks, soap dispensers, and towel dispensers can increase hygiene.
How to Wash
What may seem like an intuitive process is actually done improperly by about 95% of people, according to one study by Michigan State University researchers. In high stakes environments like food processing or pharmaceutical manufacturing, each handwashing step needs to be done properly to ensure consumer safety.
Wet: Hands should be rinsed with clean, warm water. Not only is warm water more comfortable, it also can make it easier to remove certain soils, such as fat-based ones. The water should also flow easily to remove loosened soil from hands easier and quicker.
Visible soil, such as stuck-on dough or dried food products, should be knocked off at this stage if possible. A hygienic nail brush can aid in scrubbing away hard-to-remove soils from the hands, under the nails, and around the nailbed.
Lather: Turning the tap off while washing will protect hands from becoming contaminated by splashing water. Soap is essential to the process because it lifts microbes and soils while providing visible encouragement to keep scrubbing for the recommended 15 seconds. Add an appropriate amount of antiseptic soap (as directed by the product’s label), and rub hands together, being sure to get in between fingers, around the nail bed, and all the way up to the forearms.
Rinse: Hands should be rinsed under running water. Start at the forearms and move down to the tips of the fingers, making sure all the soap is rinsed off. Rinsing removes any remaining soil, including microbes.
Dry: Hands should be dried using single-use towels or air dryers. Air dryers may be used, but they’re often less efficient and, if not cleaned frequently and properly, or if the air quality isn’t good, they can end up spewing bacteria back onto hands. If they don’t work quickly, air dryers may lead to employees drying their hands on their clothing or aprons in their rush, which can re-contaminate hands. Air dryers also don’t have the advantage of being able to be used to turn off faucets like towels.
Proper handwashing comes from a combination of an engaged and empowered food safety culture, robust training programs, and the proper set-up. As the first line of defense in food safety—and one of the most important, overall, handwashing should always be emphasized through training seminars and reminders like posters in the worksite. Clean hands make for a more hygienic food processing environment and a better finished product.