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Food Worker Hand Washing Practices: An Observation Study

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Improvement of food worker hand washing practices is critical to the reduction of foodborne illness and is dependent upon a clear understanding of current hand washing practices. To that end, this study collected detailed observational data on food worker hand washing practices. Food workers (n = 321) were observed preparing food, and data were recorded on specific work activities for which hand washing is recommended (e.g., food preparation, handling dirty equipment). Data were also recorded on hand washing behaviors that occurred in conjunction with these work activities. Results indicated that workers engaged in approximately 8.6 work activities per hour for which hand washing is recommended. However, workers made hand washing attempts (i.e., removed gloves, if worn, and placed hands in running water) in only 32% of these activities and washed their hands appropriately (i.e., removed gloves, if worn, placed hands in running water, used soap, and dried hands) in only 27% of these work activities. Attempted and appropriate hand washing rates varied by work activity—they were significantly higher in conjunction with food preparation than other work activities (46 versus ≤37% for attempted hand washing; 41 versus ≤30% for appropriate hand washing) and were significantly lower in conjunction with touching the body than other work activities (13 versus ≥27% for attempted hand washing; 10 versus ≥23% for appropriate hand washing). Attempted and appropriate hand washing rates were significantly lower when gloves were worn (18 and 16%) than when gloves were not worn (37 and 30%). These findings suggest that the hand washing practices of food workers need to be improved, glove use may reduce hand washing, and restaurants should consider reorganizing their food preparation activities to reduce the frequency with which hand washing is needed.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: RTI International, 4770 Buford Highway, MS F-28, Atlanta, Georgia 30341, USA 2: National Center for Environmental Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4770 Buford Highway, Atlanta, Georgia 30341, USA 3: Food Division, Metro Public Health Department, 311 23rd Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee 37203, USA 4: Oregon Health Services, Office of Public Health Systems, 800 N.E. Oregon, Suite 608, Portland, Oregon 97232, USA 5: Minnesota Department of Health, 410 Jackson Street, Suite 500, Mankato, Minnesota 56001, USA 6: RARE Hospitality International, Inc., 8215 Roswell Road, Building 600, Atlanta, Georgia 30350, USA 7: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Consumer Protection Division, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, Colorado 80246, USA 8: Connecticut Department of Public Health, Food Protection Program, Division of Environmental Health, MS #51 FDP, 410 Capitol Avenue, P.O. Box 340308, Hartford, Connecticut 06134-0308, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2006

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    The Journal of Food Protection (JFP) is a refereed monthly publication. Each issue contains scientific research and authoritative review articles reporting on a variety of topics in food science pertaining to food safety and quality. The Journal is internationally recognized as the leading publication in the field of food microbiology with a readership exceeding 11,000 scientists from 70 countries. The Journal of Food Protection is indexed in Index Medicus, Current Contents, BIOSIS, PubMed, Medline, and many others.

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