5 Elements of Proper Hand Washing

Ever since we were young we’ve been told one thing over and over again since we started using the restroom on our own. WASH. YOUR. HANDS.

hand washing in foodservice sink

This simple piece of advice seems easy. Why wouldn’t you wash your hands after going to the restroom? It’s the number one way to prevent all kinds of illness but has a particularly large impact on foodborne illness. There is a TON of data that supports this claim. You can see a large sample by heading over to the CDC’s website. So why is it still such a problem? Why are thousands of people sickened every year by germs and bacteria directly related to poor hand hygiene? A lot of this may be explained by the lack of instructional guidance given to many people about the proper steps of hand washing. Most people are told to wash their hands, but how many times are you told how to wash your hands?

Proper hand washing technique

Proper hand washing technique is an important part of food safety and limiting the spread of disease. Washing your hands thoroughly includes under your finger nails, between fingers and the tops of the hands. How many times have you seen someone in the bathroom next to you put a little bit of soap on their hands, rub them together with flat hands, and immediately rinse? Or just not wash at all?! Pretty gross right? In all, there are 5 critical elements to proper hand washing:

  1. Time

  2. Time is an important factor in any washing procedure. From warewashing to sanitizing food contact surfaces, time is key. The amount of time you let the cleaner do its work, generally, the more effective it will be. In the example above, we talked about a person who didn’t spend much time at the sink. Washing for 20 seconds rather than 5 seconds can improve the microbial reduction by  1.5 log, or about 95%!1  So don’t skip out on that extra sink time. A good guide for proper timing is to hum the song “Happy Birthday” to your self, from beginning to end, twice.

  3. Mechanical Action

  4. No, we aren’t talking about machines. We’re talking about your hands! Mechanical action refers to the way in which you move your hands to scrub, lather and otherwise agitate the surface of your skin, spreading the soap around to make sure you are getting into all the cracks and crevices of your hands. Let’s go back to our previous scenario; this person rubbed their hand together without opening their fingers. Do you think soap and water can effectively get in between your fingers without opening them? Your hands make better seals than you might realize. When washing your hands make sure to open up your fingers and scrub in between, under your nails and on top of your hands. After all, when you work with your hands, you don’t keep your fingers closed the whole time do you? They get dirty too and deserve just as much attention.

  5. Running Water

  6. Recent studies have suggested that the temperature of the water no longer matters, just that you are washing your hands with clear running water.

    ” ‘This is important because the biggest public health need is to increase hand washing or hand sanitizing by foodservice workers and the public before eating, preparing food and after using the restroom,’ says Jim Arbogast, study co-author and vice president of hygiene sciences and public health advancements for GOJO.”2

     Despite these recent revelations, health codes dictate that hand washing temperatures must be at a minimum of 100˚F. This is also a point of inspection for many health officials, so it’s important to monitor the temperature of the water at all of your hand washing stations.

  7. Drying

  8. Drying your hands is a step that sometimes gets overlooked, sometimes due to lack of paper towels, but plays a vital role in preventing re-contamination of your hands. If after washing your hands you don’t dry them thoroughly you increase the rate of bacterial transfer from everything you touch! 3 Hand drying sometimes gets a bad rap though. Most people have heard of the horrors lurking on your kitchen towels, or how dirty reusable towels are, which are mostly true, but not drying your hands is almost as bad. We always recommend using paper towels if available.

  9. Surfaces

  10. The surfaces you touch after washing your hands can make or break your hand hygiene routine. In crowded public spaces, high-touch surfaces such as counter tops, bars, door knobs, faucets and much more can harbor a deadly amount of bacteria.We always recommend using paper towels if available. No, that’s not deja vu. We recommend using paper towels for a couple reasons. They are the most effective at drying your hands4, and when you are ready to leave, you can use paper towels to do things like turn off light switches, turn off faucets and open doors. By eliminating contact with these surfaces you can significantly reduce your touch-transfer risk.

By making sure you incorporate the 5 elements above in your hand washing technique, you can not only help stop the spread of disease, but you may even help stop the rise of antibiotic resistance.5

For a quick reminder, download out free Hand washing Wallchart and put it at all of your hand washing stations.