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Hand Washing in Food Handling Industries

12 May 2023

Hand washing is one of the most important hygiene requirements expected of the employees working in the food handling industries. The food business operator must ensure that all employed staff are trained in good hygiene practices and that they behave in a manner that will not contaminate food.

The human body is an excellent home for bacteria. Humans carry a number of potential food poisoning bacteria on and in our body. It is very important that food handlers have a very high standard of personal hygiene to prevent contamination.


Why do Food Handlers Need to Wash Their Hands

Bacteria on the hands have an ideal environment for growth and spreading. They have food, moisture and an ideal temperature of around 37°C; all ideal factors for bacterial growth. The role of hands in transferring pathogens to high-risk food is one of major causes of outbreaks’ of food poisoning not only in Ireland, but worldwide. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre publication ‘Preventing Foodborne Disease: A Focus on the Infected Food Handler’ provides a very insightfully report on preventing foodborne diseases with a focus on the infected food handler.

Hand washing is a crucial step in preventing food contamination by food handlers. By using proper hand washing techniques and as often as possible, harmful bacteria present on the hands of food workers are removed. Some examples of harmful bacteria are E. coliSalmonella and Staphylococcus aureus and viruses (e.g. norovirus) .


When do Food Handlers Need to Wash Their Hands

All food handling staff must wash their hands including forearms when exposed with a non-perfumed soap and:

  • As frequently as necessary.
  • Before starting work.
  • Before handling cooked or ready to eat food.
  • After handling or preparing raw food.
  • After handling waste.
  • After cleaning duties.
  • After using the toilet.
  • After blowing nose, sneezing or coughing.
  • After eating, drinking or smoking.
  • After handling money.


How to Wash the Hands

Hands should be followed as follows:

  • Wet hands under warm running water.
  • Use sufficient soap to form a good lather.
  • Systematically rub all parts of hands with soap and water.
  • Lather for 10-15 seconds minimum vigorously and thoroughly rubbing all hand surfaces including the fingertips and thumbs.
  • Rinse hands thoroughly with running water.
  • Dry hands thoroughly.

The hands should be washed using designated hand wash basins only. After washing the hands must be dried using disposable paper towels. Towels are never to be shared! Alcohol and disinfectants are only effective if used on clean hands. They are not meant to be used as a method of hand disinfection – unless hands have been thoroughly washed prior using disinfectant. Taps should be turned off with either elbow or whilst holding a paper towel.

This short instructional video prepared by SafeFood demonstrates how to wash hands properly: How to wash your hands properly.


Use of Gloves

The use of disposable gloves is not a substitution for hand washing. In fact, gloves are a potential cause of food contamination as they can provide the ideal environment for multiplication of micro-organisms. Disposable gloves should only be worn for short periods and hands must be washed before and after use.

If gloves are however used regularly, a glove policy should be provided and all employees must be trained on how and when to put gloves on and how they should be used to prevent contamination. Clear instructions regarding the changing and disposal of damaged and contaminated gloves is a must.


Online Food Safety Training

Please remember – it is a legal requirement that staff who are involved in a food environment are trained and/or supervised commensurate with their work activity!

Myelearnsafety offers fully online Food Safety (HACCP) courses.

To find out more, please check our Courses page.

Alternatively, should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to let us know via email