Food Worker Handwashing and Restaurant Factors

EHS-Net Recommends

Restaurant management and food safety programs should

  • Review restaurants’ practices and surroundings in light of the findings of this study and highlight potential barriers to and supporters of hand hygiene.
  • Know that efforts to improve hand hygiene in restaurants should address the factors that affect hand hygiene behavior.
  • 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.
Washing Hands

Researchers should conduct more research on factors that affect hand hygiene and on the link between glove use and handwashing.

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. It accounts for 89% of outbreaks in which food was contaminated by food workers. Proper handwashing can reduce germs on workers’ hands and the spread of germs from hands to food and from food to other people.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends handwashing before making food and putting on gloves to make food. FDA 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).

Handwashing may not always be enough to stop the spread of germs from hands to food. So the FDA recommends use of barriers such as gloves to stop the spread of germs. But research on handwashing and glove use in restaurants shows that these practices do not occur as often as they should. To improve these practices, we must understand factors linked with these practices. We interviewed and watched food workers to collect data on these practices.

What the Study Described

This study looked at how restaurant traits such as the number of meals served were linked with food workers’ handwashing and glove use practices.

What the Study Found

Food workers were more likely to wash their hands when they should

  • Before food preparation than with other work activities.
  • When workers were not busy.
  • In restaurants where workers had food-safety training.
  • In restaurants with more than one hand sink.
  • In restaurants with a hand sink in view of the observed worker.

Glove use was more likely to occur

  • During food preparation than during other work activities.
  • When workers were not busy.
  • In chain restaurants.
  • In restaurants with glove supplies in areas where food was prepared.

Handwashing and glove use were linked to each other. Handwashing was less likely to occur when gloves were worn.

Several traits were not related to either handwashing or glove use. These factors were

  • Type of food preparation process.
  • Hand hygiene training.
  • Manager certification.
  • Hand washing supplies located at the hand sinks.
  • Worker visibility to manager.
  • Management encouragement of hand washing (as reported by manager).
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?

Factors Related to Food Worker Hand Hygiene Practicespdf icon (scientific article this plain language summary is based on)

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

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

Factors Affecting Safe Food Preparation by Food Workers and Managers (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