Handwashing and COVID 19: Facts and Fiction
Written by Cindy Rice, RS, Eastern Food Safety
Handwashing has always been important in the restaurant industry, but with the COVID 19 events over the last year, its importance seems to have been elevated even more. Handwashing is now an integral part of COVID 19 guidelines that our industry has implemented in full force and is critical to the survival and success of food establishments during these precarious times. Proper handwashing helps to shed hands of infectious Coronovirus, Norovirus, and other microorganisms that can spread disease amongst employees, customers and be transmitted to foods.
However, washing hands is one personal hygiene issue that can easily slip through the cracks. Researchers at the National Institute of Health found that people touch their faces an average of 3.6 times per hour, which is particularly risky in foodservice, considering the fact that fifty percent of healthy people carry Staphylococcus on their skin, nasal passages and scalp. And it’s scary how many people still don’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), clean hands is one of the most important barriers to transmitting pathogens to food, equipment and other people.
- FDA restaurant inspections of Full serve and Fast food restaurants revealed “Inadequate handwashing” in 74% of the visits (FDA Risk Factor Study Report 2018)
- Norovirus is the leading cause of illness outbreaks according to CDC, and as few as 18 Norovirus particles on a person’s hands may be sufficient to infect an individual
- Food workers carry out about 9 activities an hour that should involve handwashing. Workers only wash their hands in a quarter (27%) of these activities, showed one study
- Residual bacteria may remain on hands and under nails even after handwashing
Length of handwashing time doesn’t matter... Actually, a 2017 FDA study used a robust computer model to plug statistics from hundreds of scientific studies into a theoretical deli setting and found that more effective handwashing is one of the four most influential factors in reducing Norovirus infection in a restaurant environment. (Liggans, G. et al, FDA 2017)
Hand sanitizers can be used instead of washing your hands... Actually, grease and food proteins on food workers hands can interfere with the effectiveness of hand sanitizers, and handwashing with soap and water is still the best way to reduce the number of microrganisms on hands.
The hottest water you can stand for handwashing is best… Actually, pathogens on hands are effectively removed at a water temperature of 100˚F, when combined with good scrubbing action and soap for 10-15 seconds. There is no research to prove that higher temperatures improve handwashing results.
Drying hands is not necessary after washing them… Actually, pathogens can be more easily be transferred to and from wet hands, which is why drying hands is so important.
Hand dryers are better than paper towels… Actually, researchers have found that paper towels help to remove residual bacteria after handwashing, which may make them superior to air dryers. Also air dryers have been shown to spread bacteria between three and six feet from the device, making them more likely to contaminate other restroom users, compared to paper towel use.
In these days of Coronovirus prevention, handwashing is a critical step that has gained an even higher level of awareness and respect than before by the public as well as foodservice workers. Food handlers need to make handwashing a priority, automatic, without thinking, and know that your customers are watching to make sure that you are keeping them safe, as well, with your clean hands. Help to make handwashing convenient for your staff by providing dedicated, conveniently located handsinks and keeping handwashing areas stocked with soap, paper towels, and trash barrel.
Continue the battle against COVID 19 and raise the food safety culture in your facility by modeling and reinforcing proper handwashing with your staff every day.
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