Are America’s Favorite Restaurants Following Correct Handwashing Processes?

Restaurants Need Handwashing-Designated Sinks as Part of a Culture of Cleanliness

Hand-washing is so vital to safe food production that most regions require posted signs requiring employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom and require restaurants to have a dedicated hand-washing sink.  One of the first things a local health and safety inspector will check when entering a commercial kitchen is the dedicated hand-washing sink. If the sink area is not stocked with soap or paper towels, or the sink is bone dry, the inspector will be confident that staff have not washed their hands before the start of work. In addition, if food or other items, such as a pile of rags or dirty dishes, are in the sink, it will be obvious that the sink is not a “designated hand-washing sink.” In most cases the health and safety inspector will include these hand-washing violations in their report.

Although many factors can cause food safety issues in a restaurant, a major factor is personal hygiene. The reason? Most pathogens follow the oral fecal route or are a result of cross-contamination. In short, an infected person “sheds” a virus ,parasite or bacteria which they can then pass to others. Their hands usually become contaminated after using the restroom.  In other instances, a worker’s hands become contaminated after touching an infected surface, substance or food (like taking money from a customer or touching uncooked meat) and then, without washing their hands, that worker moves on to something else. 

Cleanliness is essential (in fact, central) to serving food that is safe to eat. Hands need to be washed with warm soapy water – for 20 seconds with water that is at least 100F. During food preparation staff are required to wash hands before and after handling food, after using the bathroom, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their noses. Staff with any kind of skin lesion or cut on their hands need to wear clean, disposable gloves that can be washed as required or replaced with clean gloves. Staff especially need to wash hands before handling food after cleaning tables, washing dishes, or financial transactions.

In short, handwashing prevents dangerous germs such as salmonella, E. coli, norovirus, hepatitis a, parasites, and C. perfringens. Foods that are most likely to be conduits to spread these germs are raw meats, seafood, raw vegetables before being cooked or washed, and eggs.  Hands should be washed immediately after handling of these foods and before moving on to new tasks in the kitchen.

Enforcement of these requirements is challenging. Kitchen staff need to be trained and supervised to the point that they develop these proper habits. Restaurants that provide food-safety training are more likely to have employees that correctly wash their hands. In a fast-paced restaurant, and in an industry with high staff turnover, this simple step of frequent hand washing can be easily overlooked.

Cleanliness starts with hand washing but also needs to be exercised in all aspects of food handling, storage, and serving. If you are concerned about food safety at your local restaurants, the health and safety inspector reports are often public documents and available online or upon request.  Those who get sick form food poisoning may also have a legal claim, this according to one national food poisoning lawyer, Ron Simon.

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Are America’s Favorite Restaurants Following Correct Handwashing Processes?

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