Food Worker Handwashing and Food Preparation

EHS-Net Recommends

Restaurant management and food safety programs should

  • Work to improve handwashing rates, particularly after activities involving raw meat.
  • Revise food preparation activities to lower the number of needed handwashings. For example, a sandwich-making process could be revised to lower the number of times a worker has to handle raw meat. This would lower the number of handwashings needed and should increase the odds that workers will wash their hands as needed.
  • Occasionally carry out observations like those done for this study to show where progress in handwashing is needed.
Photo of chef preparing fish filet.

Researchers should conduct research to find out factors that affect handwashing and to explain the link between glove use and handwashing. This information could be used to address barriers to effective handwashing and ultimately reduce illness.

Why This Study Was Done

The spread of germs from the hands of food workers to food is an important cause of foodborne illness outbreaks in restaurants. In fact, it caused 89% of outbreaks in which food was contaminated by food workers. Proper handwashing can reduce germs on workers’ hands. It can also reduce the spread of germs from hands to food and from food to other people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that hands be washed before

  • Making food and
  • Putting on gloves to make food.

FDA also advises that hands be washed after

  • Eating,
  • Drinking,
  • Using tobacco,
  • Coughing,
  • Sneezing,
  • Using tissue,
  • Preparing raw animal products,
  • Handling dirty equipment, and
  • Touching the body (such as scratching your nose).

Improving food worker handwashing practices is critical. But first we need to know about current practices. We interviewed and watched food workers to collect data on these practices.

What the Study Described

This study described restaurant food workers’ handwashing practices and focused on when workers washed their hands.

What the Study Found

Overall, workers engaged in about 9 activities an hour that should have involved handwashing. Workers washed their hands in only 27% of activities in which they should have. Handwashing rates differed by activity and are described below.

  • Before preparing food: 41%
  • Before putting on gloves to prepare food: 30%
  • After eating, drinking, using tobacco, coughing, sneezing, using tissue: 26%
  • After preparing raw animal products: 23%
  • After handling dirty equipment: 23%
  • After touching body: 10%

Workers were more likely to wash their hands at the right time when they were not wearing gloves than when they were.

What Is EHS-Net?

This study was conducted by the Environmental Health Specialists Network (EHS-Net). EHS-Net is a federally funded collaboration of federal, state, and local environmental health specialists and epidemiologists working to better understand the environmental causes of foodborne illness.

Want More Information?

Food Worker Hand Washing Practices: An EHS-Net Observation Studypdf icon (scientific article this plain language summary is based on)

Food Worker Handwashing and Food Preparation pdf icon[PDF – 282 KB] (fact sheet version of this page)

Factors Affecting Safe Food Preparation by Food Workers and Managers (plain language summary of another hand hygiene article)

Food Worker Handwashing and Restaurant Factors (plain language summary of another hand hygiene article)

Food Safety Practices of Restaurant Workers (plain language summary of another hand hygiene article)

Hand Hygiene Study (study information)

More EHS-Net publications by Study Topic

More Food Safety Study Findings in Plain Language

Page last reviewed: June 18, 2019