Perspective: Hand Hygiene in food establishments.


“The hand hygiene policy in any food related services/ food establishments is designed to promote the highest possible standards of personal hygiene practices for food handlers within the food production environment.”


September 18, 2023
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Perspective: Hand Hygiene in food establishments.

In the grand scheme of the universe, food Safety was and still is the number one priority for all food suppliers, caterers, and manufacturers at different levels. The implementation and enforcement of the food safety management system (HACCP) has become a mandatory requirement in many countries including developing countries with the pressure of authorities ensuring that food is delivered to the end user or consumer safely and would not cause any potential harm to humans. This is apart from the increased consumer awareness not only of food quality but also all aspects related to food safety. 

Personal Hygiene, namely hand washing which is also known as hand hygiene is part and parcel of the food safety management critical policies which encompass all the activities involved in the transformation of foodstuffs (i.e., raw materials) into consumer-ready food products – from sourcing, to processing, handling, distribution, and sale – as well as the management and documentation of these activities.

Hand washing is the act of cleaning one's hands with soap and water to remove viruses/bacteria/microorganisms, dirt, grease, or other harmful and unwanted substances stuck to the hands. Drying of the washed hands is part of the process as wet and moist hands are more easily re-contaminated. If soap and water are unavailable, hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol in water can be used if hands are not visibly excessively dirty or greasy. Hand hygiene is central to preventing the spread of infectious diseases in home and everyday life settings, and certainly crucial to food processing and production of food establishments.

The hand hygiene policy in any food related services/ food establishments is designed to promote the highest possible standards of personal hygiene practices for food handlers within the food production environment.  The specific policy elements can be set as a generic policy but could change from one establishment to another but set as standards as follows:

  • All food handlers must have access to a clean wash hand basin, (WHB) which has hot, (45-49C) and cold running water, bactericidal soap and paper towels.  There should be sufficient WHB’s within the food room to ensure that food handlers can gain access to the WHB at all necessary times, without queuing. 
  • The WHB should be for hand washing only and be clearly identified with a sign stating, “Hand Washing Only”.
  • Food handlers must wash their hands regularly during the working day and always:
  • When entering a food room 
  • After touching their hair, nose, mouth, or smoking
  • After visiting the toilet
  • After handling raw food, including eggs
  • After handling refuse
  • After sneezing or coughing
  • After handling chemicals
  • After eating or drinking

Guidelines for hand hygiene in food service

Here are also simple some guidelines for hand hygiene in food service:

  • Wash hands including around and under fingernails, between fingers and forearms.
  • Rub and scrub vigorously and thoroughly with soap and warm water for a period of 20 seconds.
  • Wash hands using soap from a dispenser.
  • Keep your fingernails trimmed and clean.

To that end, hand hygiene is the practice of washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers to remove germs and prevent infections.

What makes hand hygiene critical?

 Some of the benefits of hand hygiene are:

  • It reduces the risk of getting sick with diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, skin and eye infections, and other diseases caused by germs.
  • It prevents the spread of germs to others, especially those who are more vulnerable to infections, such as young children, the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system.
  • It saves lives by preventing millions of deaths each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, which are the top two killers of young children around the world.
  • It saves resources by reducing the need for health care services, medications, and hospitalizations due to infections.

Appropriate food wash hand basis used only for hand wash is an important element to ensure that hand hygiene policies are enforced with preference to install foot operated wash hand basis and /or photocell wash hand basins in modern food services/establishments that are easily available and supplied through the supply chain of washing equipment for food services   .

Monitoring of food handlers washing hands in between frequent food preparation activities using WHBS and the appropriate liquid soap or sanitizer is also critical to ensure that food handlers are washing their hands in between the activities when handling food prior and after. Monitoring can be implemented using various methods such as  watch stops or manual reporting  of washing hands of all food handlers with appropriate supervisory measures in place by the production supervisors on site. Sufficient documentation of washing hands activities amongst food handlers must be available digitally or otherwise to provide the due diligence required in any food safety management system. 

Finally, structured and refresher training programs of food handlers in food establishments on basic level of food hygiene , BFH level 1, which is a mandatory training in many countries that covers great parts of personal hygiene standards and practices , including hand hygiene,  is of a paramount importance to enforce hand hygiene policy in food services.

About the author

Alan Zering is the Managing Director of Intertek Cristal / Check Safety First - EMMA Region.