When Does The Law Require Hand Washing?


Washing the hands thoroughly is still the most effective way to eliminate the spread of many of the most common food borne illnesses. It is an essential part of any food handler’s daily job. This includes commercial or retail restaurants, cafeterias, bakeries, delicatessens, meat and seafood markets, etc. These same safe food handling practices should be followed in your own kitchen, as well.

When Does the Law Require Hand Washing?

The following is a list of instances when food handlers are required by law to wash their hands. This is the accepted standard in the US and most western countries that require high quality in food sanitation and personal hygiene.

  • Hands should be washed immediately before beginning food preparation. This includes working with non-packaged food, clean equipment and utensils, and unwrapped single use food containers and utensils.
  • After touching any bare parts of the body, such as your face, hair or exposed parts of your arms that you have not washed.
  • Wash your hands each and every time after using the toilet.
  • Wash your hands after touching, caring for, or handling any animal that may be in a food service facility. This includes service animals, pets, or animals or fowl that may become a future meal.
  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or using a Kleenex or handkerchief.
  • Wash your hands after smoking or using tobacco.
  • Wash your hands after eating or drinking.
  • Often, cooks and food service employees are observed eating or drinking during food preparation. Eating is not allowed but drinking from an enclosed, spill-proof type container can be allowed. If the container is handled while working, the employee must prevent the contamination of his hands, any open or exposed food, or food contact surfaces.
  • Hands must be washed after any soiled equipment or utensils are handled. If float staff has to handle dishwashing chores, they must wash their hands after the completion of this task and before coming into contact with food or any aspect of food preparation.
  • Hands must be washed during food preparation, as often as necessary, to remove bacteria and to prevent cross-contamination between tasks.
  • Hands must be washed when switching between the handling of raw food and ready-to-eat food. This is a major source of cross-contamination when disease causing organisms are transferred from the raw product (usually chicken, meat or seafood) to a ready-to- eat product, like a salad or cooked food.
  • Wash hands before putting on gloves to work with food.
  • Hands must be washed before serving food or handling clean tableware and serving utensils. This means that anytime a server, waiter, or waitress is going to handle food or a utensil that is going directly to the customer, hands must be washed.
  • Hands should be washed after any activity that could contaminate the hands, such as handling money or picking up dirty dishes.

Health and safety codes try to address just about every activity that would require employees to wash their hands. Hand sanitizer can not be substituted for thorough hand washing with soap and water.

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