January 10

Good handwashing practices go a long way in protecting the health of your customers and staff.

Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, the mid-19th century physician known as the Father of Handwashing, spearheaded a dramatic drop in postpartum infections for new moms when he insisted physicians and med students wash their hands before treating patients.

Today, handwashing is just as critical, including in the food-handling environment. We can’t see germs, but we know that germs spread infection. Employees with unwashed hands could inadvertently transfer contaminants from raw meat to ready-to-eat items, for example. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in six people – about 48 million Americans -- get sick from foodborne illnesses every year. One of the most effective (and required) measures to reduce the spread of contaminants is thorough hand washing. Help your food handlers understand the critical importance of washing their hands through education, message reinforcement and by equipping them with everything they need to wash their hands effectively and frequently.

The costs can be sobering

Good handwashing practices go a long way in protecting the health of your customers and staff. Poor food safety practices, including failure to wash hands, carry risks beyond those affecting physical health; they can affect your enterprise’s financial health, as well. Research published in April 2018 by Sarah Bartsch and others on the “Estimated Cost to a Restaurant of a Foodborne Illness Outbreak” estimates that the financial hit from an outbreak can cost a restaurant thousands, even millions of dollars, considering lost revenue, fines, lawsuits, legal fees, insurance premium increases, inspection costs and staff retraining. Good food safety practices, including a strong handwashing protocol, protect not only your customers, but your business.

Here’s what you do can do about it

Food handlers don’t wash their hands as often as they should for many reasons. Here are three common barriers – and what you can do to combat them.


  • Lack of training: The FDA identifies more than 40 different kinds of bacteria, viruses, parasites and molds that can occur in foods and cause foodborne illness. Of these, “The Big Six” are most highly contagious (especially through hand contact) and can cause severe illness.
    • Norovirus
    • Shigella   
    • Hepatitis A
    • Salmonella Typhi
    • Nontyphoidal Salmonella (NTS)
    • E. coli

Solution: Help your teams understand what these bacteria and viruses are and how they spread. The first three are spread person-to-person, usually by contact from hands contaminated with feces and vomit from infected people. Staffers can be carriers without showing any signs of illness. Infected people can continue to be contagious for days before and after any symptoms occur, and some microorganisms can last for weeks on surfaces outside the body. Salmonella and E. coli can be inherent in some foods, including raw poultry and eggs, raw meat, and raw milk products. Some types of produce, including tomatoes, cantaloupe, sprouts, and peppers, have also been contaminated. If someone handles raw meat and switches right over to chopping vegetables or peeling fruit without washing their hands thoroughly, this can spread contaminants.


  • Lack of resources is another barrier. Do everything in your power to make handwashing convenient.

Solution: Take a quick inventory of your kitchen’s hand sinks. First, are they easy for employees to reach and do you have enough of them? Are your hand sinks clear and clean or is someone using them to store things? Is there a full soap dispenser and either a hand dryer or single-use towels? Where are the soap and towel supplies kept? Store them where they’re easy to grab quickly to refill the hand sink station.


  • Distraction during the rush interferes with good practices. Remind food handlers regularly that a soapy scrub for just 20 seconds (front and back of hands, between fingers, under nails, up the forearms) is an incredible safeguard against foodborne illness. It’s such a small amount of time to devote to such a major safety net.
Solution: Try this effective handwashing exercise to create a lasting impression. Ecolab offers a kit that effectively shows employees what it takes to really wash hands well. You ask everyone to rub a clear substance called Digiglo on their hands and then ask them to wash it off. A blacklight, included in the kit, will quickly show the spots they missed in glowing traces. Make it a contest and reward the best hand-washer with a gift card.

You can find a full range of handwashing products, information, instructional aids, visual aids and services from Ecolab.

This content brought to you by Ecolab.