Food Safety: Why Washing your Hands is Crucial

Food Safety: Why Washing your Hands is Crucial
Everyone who handles food must regularly wash and dry their hands properly as this is one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent harmful (pathogenic) bacteria spreading from hands onto food through contamination and cross-contamination. Poor hand hygiene practices are the main cause of the spread of many types of infections and food-borne illnesses such as those caused by Salmonella and E. coli.

In the food industry, most pathogens are transmitted by the faecal-oral route and cross-contamination from hands to food. A study carried out by Queen Mary University; London revealed faecal bacteria was discovered on:

  • 14% of banknotes
  • 10% on credit cards
  • 1 in 6 mobile phones

Food-borne illnesses

Each bacteria, under suitable conditions, can reproduce every 20 minutes, resulting in multiplication to dangerous levels in a short space of time.

Some bacteria are harmless or even useful, i.e. yeast in the brewing of beer. Unfortunately, many people suffer from a food-related illness every year caused by harmful bacteria, which can be avoided where good hand hygiene practices are implemented and maintained.

Some symptoms can be unpleasant such as:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Sickness
  • Nausea

However, other infections can be more serious and debilitating such as illnesses caused by Listeria or E. coli.

According to the World Health Organizatio (WHO):

An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food, and 420,000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs).

It is for this reason that food professionals advise that hand-washing procedures must be implemented and strictly monitored.

Ways employers can encourage hand washing

Employers must ensure the relevant training is implemented and offer easy access to handwashing basins, which must have hot running water; soap and disposable towels or air dryers. The number of basins available should accommodate for the number of employees in the business.

How to wash hands effectively

To wash hands effectively you should:

  • Turn on the water and adjust the temperature to warm
  • Wet your hands thoroughly under the running water
  • Apply liquid soap, using antibacterial soap as best practice
  • Lather thoroughly
  • Use plenty of friction and lather for 10 to 15 seconds
  • Vigorously wash:
    • the palms and the backs of your hands
    • each finger and between each finger
    • knuckles, wrists and forearms
  • Use a clean nailbrush to clean under your fingernails
  • rinse your hands and wrists thoroughly under warm running water
  • dry your hands thoroughly using a disposable paper towel or air dryer
  • Unless your facility has elbow or knee operated taps, turn off the taps with a clean paper towel before discarding the towel in a lidded, foot-operated bin
  • Apply, if required to do so, an alcohol spray or liquid sanitiser to your hands

When to wash hands

The important times when you must wash your hands are:

  • After using the toilet – failure to do so can spread harmful micro-organisms to food
  • Before starting work and handling food
  • Between handling raw and cooked foods
  • When moving between low risk (‘dirty’) foods, for example, vegetable or raw meat preparation and high-risk (‘clean’). For example, sandwich preparation areas
  • After handling waste food and packaging waste
  • After cleaning and disinfection operations
  • After smoking, eating and drinking, or taking a break
  • After blowing your nose, sneezing, or touching your hair or mouth

Remember – Safe hands for safe food.


Further Resources