FoodHander Inc FoodHander Inc - Food Safety
Food Safety
Frequently Asked Questions
I need to instill in my employees the importance of handwashing. Can you help?

Absolutely! The hands are particularly important in transmitting foodborne pathogens. Food employees with dirty hands and/or fingernails may contaminate the food being prepared. Therefore, any activity which may contaminate the hands must be followed by thorough handwashing in accordance with the procedures outlined in the 2005 FDA Food Code.

Even seemingly healthy employees may serve as reservoirs for pathogenic microorganisms that are transmissible through food. Staphylococci, for example, can be found on the skin and in the mouth, throat, and nose of many employees. The hands of employees can be contaminated by touching their nose or other body parts. Handwashing is a critical factor in reducing fecal-oral pathogens that can be transmitted from hands to RTE food as well as other pathogens that can be transmitted from environmental sources. Many employees fail to wash their hands as often as necessary and even those who do may use flawed techniques.

Food employees shall use the following cleaning procedure in the order stated to clean their hands and exposed portions of their arms, including surrogate prosthetic devices for hands and arms:

  • Rinse under clean, running warm water.
  • Apply an amount of cleaning compound recommended by the cleaning compound manufacturer.
  • Rub together vigorously for at least 10 to 15 seconds while: Paying particular attention to removing soil from underneath the fingernails during the cleaning procedure, and creating friction on the surfaces of the hands and arms or surrogate prosthetic devices for hands and arms, finger tips, and areas between the fingers.
  • Thoroughly rinse under clean, running warm water.
  • Immediately follow the cleaning procedure with thorough drying using a method as specified in the 2005 FDA Food Code. TO avoid re-contaminating their hands or surrogate prosthetic devices, food employees may use disposable paper towels or similar clean barriers when touching surfaces such as manually operated faucet handles on a handwashing sink or the handle of a restroom door.  If approved and capable of removing the types of soils encountered in the food operations involved, an automatic handwashing facility may be used by food employees to clean their hands or surrogate prosthetic devices.

The greatest concentration of microbes exists around and under the fingernails of the hands. The area under the fingernails, known as the “subungal space,” has by far the largest concentration of microbes on the hand and this is also the most difficult area of the hand to decontaminate. Fingernail brushes, if used properly, have been found to be effective tools in decontaminating this area of the hand. Proper use of single-use fingernail brushes, or designated individual fingernail brushes for each employee, during the handwashing procedure can achieve up to a 5-log reduction in microorganisms on the hands.

There are two different types of microbes on the hands, transient and resident microbes. Transient microbes consist of contaminating pathogens which are loosely attached to the skin surface and do not survive or multiply. A moderate number of these organisms can be removed with adequate handwashing. Resident microbes consist of a relatively stable population that survive and multiply on the skin and they are not easily washed off the hands. Resident microbes on the hands are usually not a concern for potential contamination in food service.

All aspects of proper handwashing are important in reducing microbial transients on the hands. However, friction and water have been found to play the most important role. 

This is why the amount of time spent scrubbing the hands is critical in proper handwashing. It takes more than just the use of soap and running water to remove the transient pathogens that may be present. It is the abrasive action obtained by vigorously rubbing the surfaces being cleaned that loosens the transient microorganisms on the hands. Research has shown a minimum 10-15 second scrub is necessary to remove transient pathogens from the hands and when an antimicrobial soap is used, a minimum of 15 seconds is required. Soap is important for the surfactant effect in removing soil from the hands and a warm water temperature is important in achieving the maximum surfactant effect of the soap.

Every stage in handwashing is equally important and has an additive effect in transient microbial reduction. Therefore, effective handwashing must include scrubbing, rinsing, and drying the hands. When done properly, each stage of handwashing further decreases the transient microbial load on the hands. It is equally important to avoid recontaminating hands by avoiding direct hand contact with heavily contaminated environmental sources, such as manually operated handwashing sink faucets, paper towel dispensers, and rest room door handles after the handwashing procedure. This can be accomplished by obtaining a paper towel from its dispenser before the handwashing procedure, then, after handwashing, using the paper towel to operate the hand sink faucet handles and restroom door handles.

Handwashing done properly can result in a 2-3 log reduction in transient bacteria and a 2-log reduction in transient viruses and protozoa. With heavy contamination of transient microbial pathogens, handwashing may be ineffective in completely decontaminating the hands. Therefore, a further intervention such as a barrier between hands and ready-to-eat food is necessary.

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My employees need information on when and where to do handwashing. Can you help?

Absolutely! Let’s start with the criteria from the 2005 FDA Food Code.

The hands may become contaminated when the food employee engages in specific activities. The increased risk of contamination requires handwashing immediately after the activities listed. The specific examples listed in this Code section are not intended to be all inclusive. Employees must wash their hands after any activity which may result in contamination of the hands. 

Food employees shall clean their hands and exposed portions of their arms immediately before engaging in food preparation including working with exposed food, clean equipment and utensils, and unwrapped single-service and single-use articles and:

  1. After touching bare human body parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed portions of arms.
  2. After using the toilet room.
  3. After caring for or handling service animals or aquatic animals.
  4. After coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief or disposable tissue, using tobacco, eating, or drinking.
  5. After handling soiled equipment or utensils.
  6. During food preparation, as often as necessary to remove soil and contamination and to prevent cross contamination when changing tasks.
  7. When switching between working with raw food and working with ready-to-eat food.
  8. Before donning gloves for working with food.
  9. After engaging in other activities that contaminate the hands. 

Where to Wash

Effective handwashing is essential for minimizing the likelihood of the hands becoming a vehicle of cross contamination. It is important that handwashing be done only at a properly equipped handwashing sink in order to help ensure that food employees effectively clean their hands. Handwashing sinks are to be conveniently located, always accessible for handwashing, maintained so they provide proper water temperatures and pressure, and equipped with suitable hand cleansers, nail brushes, and disposable towels and waste containers, or hand dryers. It is inappropriate to wash hands in a food preparation sink since this may result in avoidable contamination of the sink and the food prepared therein. Service sinks may not be used for food employee handwashing since this practice may introduce additional hand contaminants because these sinks may be used for the disposal of mop water, toxic chemicals, and a variety of other liquid wastes. Such wastes may contain pathogens from cleaning the floors of food preparation areas and toilet rooms and discharges from ill persons. 

Food employees shall clean their hands in a handwashing sink or approved automatic handwashing facility and may not clean their hands in a sink used for food preparation or warewashing, or in a service sink or a curbed cleaning facility used for the disposal of mop water and similar liquid waste.

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My staff wants to use hand sanitizer/gloves in place of handwashing, is this approved?

NO!  Handwashing is the first and foremost preventative measure a food worker can do. Handwashing must always come first. Consider using hand sanitizer (hand antiseptic) and gloves as another layer of barrier protection when preparing ready to eat foods. The food code is very specific that hand antiseptics and gloves shall be applied only to hands that are cleaned as specified by the code.

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My employees want to wear artificial nails and nail polish, is this permissible?

Absolutely! The requirement for fingernails to be trimmed, filed, and maintained is designed to address both the cleanability of areas beneath the fingernails and the possibility that fingernails or pieces of the fingernails may end up in the food due to breakage. Failure to remove fecal material from beneath the fingernails after defecation can be a major source of pathogenic organisms. Ragged fingernails present cleanability concerns and may harbor pathogenic organisms. A food employee shall keep their fingernails trimmed, filed, and maintained so the edges and surfaces are cleanable and not rough.  Unless wearing intact gloves in good repair, a food employee may not wear fingernail polish or artificial fingernails when working with exposed food.

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Should I permit my employees to wear their jewelry?

Items of jewelry such as rings, bracelets, and watches may collect soil and the construction of the jewelry may hinder routine cleaning. As a result, the jewelry may act as a reservoir of pathogenic organisms transmissible through food.

The term “jewelry” generally refers to the ornaments worn for personal adornment and medical alert bracelets do not fit this definition. However, the wearing of such bracelets carries the same potential for transmitting disease-causing organisms to food. If a food worker wears a medical alert or medical information bracelet, the conflict between this need and the Food Code’s requirements can be resolved through reasonable accommodation in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The person in charge should discuss the Food Code requirement with the employee and together they can work out an acceptable alternative to a bracelet. For example, the medical alert information could be worn in the form of a necklace or anklet to provide the necessary medical information without posing a risk to food. Alternatives to medical alert bracelets are available through a number of different companies (e.g., an internet search using the term “medical alert jewelry” leads to numerous suppliers).

An additional hazard associated with jewelry is the possibility that pieces of the item or the whole item itself may fall into the food being prepared. Hard foreign objects in food may cause medical problems for consumers, such as chipped and/or broken teeth and internal cuts and lesions.

Except for a plain ring such as a wedding band, while preparing food, food employees may not wear jewelry including medical information jewelry on their arms and hands.

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