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It’s All in the Hands…

Foodborne illnesses from ill food workers are spread by the hands. Many of the employee hygiene requirements in the food rule are designed to prevent the spread of these fecal-borne illnesses. Restricting ill food workers from handling food is required for food safety, but may not be used alone. Here are examples of why restriction must be used with hand washing and prevention of bare hand contact to prevent foodborne illness:



Carriers are people able to spread illness without showing symptoms.


Varied Times of Infectivity

Not only can illnesses be transmitted when symptoms are present, but many illnesses can be spread before symptoms appear or after symptoms are gone. For example, Norovirus (sometimes called the “cruise ship virus”) can be spread for several days after the diarrhea and vomiting have stopped.


Varied Immune Response

Because of age, general health status, and other factors, people have varying abilities to fight disease. Germs that cause slight illness in some may cause severe illness in people with lower levels of immune protection. Many people infected with hepatitis A, for example, have a relatively mild illness. Other people, such as those over 50 years old or with liver disease, are more likely to have severe illness including possible death. Restricting food workers known to be ill is essential in stopping the spread of disease, but may not be the sole prevention method.

Hand washing and preventing bare hand contact are also required for optimal food safety.


Hand Washing Requirements

The food rule requires:

  • Hands must be scrubbed for at least 15 seconds
  • All hand wash sinks must have a hand washing sign reminding food workers to wash
  • Water temperature must be at least 100°F
  • Metered faucets must run for at least 15 seconds


Bare Hand Contact

The third step in reducing the transmission of foodborne illnesses from employees is to prevent bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. The revised food rule prohibits the handling of ready-to-eat foods unless otherwise approved by the regulatory authority. Food workers must use utensils such as deli tissue, spatulas, tongs or single-use gloves to handle foods that are ready-to-eat. If gloves are used, they must be thrown away after each use, between tasks, or when ripped. The food rule also states that food employees should minimize bare hand contact with all unpackaged foods, even those that are not ready-to-eat.


Other Personal Hygiene Issues

Cuts, Wounds and Sores

Cuts, wounds and open sores on the hands and arms must be covered by a waterproof bandage. When handling food or clean equipment, utensils or linens, food workers must cover bandages on the hands with a glove.


Fingernails and Jewelry

Food employees must keep their fingernails trimmed and may not wear fingernail polish during food preparation unless also wearing gloves. Food employees may not wear jewelry on the hands or arms while preparing food. Jewelry includes watches, rings, bracelets, and other adornments. One ring may be worn if covered by a food service glove.


Eating, Drinking and Tobacco

Food employees may not smoke or eat in areas where food or equipment contamination may result. Employees may drink from closed beverage containers, such as those with a lid and straw.


Clean Outer Clothing

Food workers are required to wear clean outer garments while preparing, serving, or handling food or clean equipment, utensils, and linens.


Hair Restraints

The food rule requires that food employees wear hair restraints such as hats or hairnets to keep their hair effectively controlled during food preparation. Employees such as front counter staff, hosts, wait staff and bartenders are not required to wear hair restraints if they present a minimal risk to contaminating food or equipment.


Rev. 12/29/17


This article is an excerpt from the Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations (HERO), published by the Washington Hospitality Association.  Want a hard copy of the whole manual?  It’s one of the many benefits of becoming a member!  Find out more about joining the Washington Hospitality Association here.

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Categories: HERO