Masters Challenge Discovery Series

This is why hand hygiene is still a critical issue in food production

Are your employee’s unclean hands putting the production line at risk? Hand hygiene remains a big issue in preventing the spread of disease and illness. In fact, most foodborne outbreaks involved hand hygiene. Research in the U.S. has found that food workers’ hands were a factor in 89% of foodborne outbreaks over a 23-year period . Keeping hands clean is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of pathogens . But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Poor personal hygiene is among the risk factors with the highest non-compliance rate , putting food production environments at risk of contamination.

Effective hand washing is still number one

Hand washing is crucial, but doing it properly might mean different things to different people. Soap and water has long been accepted as the best method for removing pathogens from skin . It’s important that staff don’t mistakenly place their trust in hand sanitisers. While hand sanitisers can be useful in some situations, they don’t remove all types of germs or dangerous chemicals . Your staff may be confused about how and when they should wash their hands. U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wetting and lathering the hands in soap (including between fingers, under nails and the backs of hands) for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying . According to U.S. CDC, there’s no difference between using warm or cold water and a U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) study found that increasing the hand wash from 15 seconds to two minutes only removed 3% more transient microorganisms .

Knowing when to wash

Not only do staff need to know when to wash, they need the behaviour to be easily enabled by the organisation. The GMP Food Standards Code Australia advises that employees should clean their hands whenever they are likely to be a source of contamination of food. Hands should be cleaned immediately before handling food. They should also be cleaned immediately after smoking, coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief or tissue, going to the toilet, eating, drinking, using tobacco, or touching hair or skin .

A clean hand is a dry hand

Wet hands will transfer 99% more bacteria to hard surfaces than dry hands. Water left on hands after washing allows for bacteria to adhere to hands once touching a contaminated surface. Making sure staff have dry hands will further reduce the risk of cross-contamination. Research completed at the University of Westminster comparing different hand drying methods demonstrated that using paper hand towels after hand washing reduces bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus left on hands by up to 77% . Jet air dryers can increase bacteria on fingers by up to 42%. Paper towels can also be used to help to create a barrier between surfaces, such as door handles, when other options aren’t available for avoiding hand contact with unclean surfaces. But not only do staff need to know when and how to wash, they need the behaviour to be easily enabled by the organisation.

Hand hygiene compliance requires more than education

A study into hand hygiene compliance found that training alone is not enough to create long-term behavioural change. The research found that organisations need to implement a range of tactics to ensure hand hygiene sticks. This means overcoming the reasons staff don’t comply. The researchers listed these reasons for non-compliance: laziness, time pressure, inadequate facilities and supplies, lack of accountability, and lack of involvement by companies, managers, and workers in supporting proper hand washing . Long-term behavioural change and compliance comes from creating a workplace culture and operational design that encourages safe hygienic practices . The researchers stated: ‘Multiactivity strategies also must include modification of the organization culture to encourage safe hygienic practices, motivation of employees willing to use peer pressure on noncompliant coworkers, a reward and/or penalty system, and an operational design that facilitates regular hand hygiene.’


Creating behavioural change

The challenge for Quality Managers is a strategy for influencing long-lasting hand hygiene behaviours. There is not a quick fix. Implementing best-practice hand hygiene techniques into your food production line requires a range of strategies. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest research and behavioural science to ensure you’re following up-to-date food safety standards and practices.
You can test your knowledge of hand hygiene and other areas of food safety with the Masters’ Challenge. This free eight-question quiz enables you to anonymously compare your knowledge with your peers. It also offers insights into food safety, helping you stay informed with the latest research to improve your food safety culture. Take the Masters’ Challenge today.

1Jensen et al. “Quantifying the Effect of Hand Wash Duration, Soap Use, Ground Beef Debris and Drying Methods on the Removal of Enterobacter aerogenes on Hands.” Journal of Food Protection, 2015

2U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

3FDA, 2009.

4U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention



7Guzewich, Jack and Ross, Marianne P., “Evaluation of Risks Related to Microbiological Contamination of Ready-to-eat Food by Food Preparation Workers and the Effectiveness of Interventions to Minimize Those Risks.” Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 1999.

8GMP Food Standard Code Australia, Standard 3.2.2 Food Safety Practices and General Requirements.

9Redway, et al. “A comparative study of three different hand drying methods: paper towel, warm air dryer, jet air dryer.", European Tissue Symposium, November 2008.

10Todd, Ewen C.D. et al. “Outbreaks Where Food Workers Have Been Implicated in the Spread of Foodborne Disease. Part 11. Use of Antiseptics and Sanitizers in Community Settings and Issues of Hand Hygiene Compliance in Health Care and Food Industries.” Journal of Food Protection, 2010