Hand Washing 101


Proper hand washing is the best defense against foodborne illness and spreading disease. There are many opportunities in a full-service restaurant for the transmission of disease when good hand washing practices are not implemented.

Proper Hand Washing Procedure

Food employees should wash their hands for 20 seconds using a cleaning compound in a hand wash sink in the following order:

  1. Rinse hands under clean, running warm water.
  2. Apply cleaning compound.
  3. Rub hands together vigorously for at least 10–15 seconds.
  4. Remove soil from underneath fingernails.
  5. Thoroughly rinse hands under clean, running warm water.
  6. Dry hands with a disposable drying towel or hot air.

For more on proper hand washing procedures, go here:

Hand Washing Posters in English and Spanish

Hand Washing Requirements

According to the 2009 FDA Food Code, hand washing is required:

  • After touching human body parts, coughing, and sneezing
  • After using the toilet; a double hand wash is required before returning to work
  • After handling service animals
  • After eating, drinking, or using tobacco
  • After handling dirty equipment or utensils
  • During food prep as often as necessary when hands get dirty
  • When changing tasks in the kitchen
  • When switching from handling raw animal products to ready-to-eat products
  • Before putting on gloves
  • After engaging in other activities that contaminate hands

Let’s look more closely at hand washing by restaurant position and some challenges. These positions need to focus on hand washing throughout shifts:


It’s critical that cooks wash their hands after handling raw animal products so they don’t contaminate any other food products or utensils used in the kitchen. Also, washing hands when changing gloves is very important. This makes hand washing on the line challenging during busy times.

Dish Washers

If a restaurant isn’t busy enough to justify more than one dish washer at one time, hand washing becomes difficult but essential. The dish washer must make sure to wash hands when switching from handling dirty dishes to putting away clean ones. It’s always best to have one washer designated for the dirty dishes and another one for putting away clean dishes and equipment.  

Servers & Bussers

Servers and bussers are in direct contact with many customers during a shift. Hand washing must be done frequently to ensure employees don’t cross-contaminate clean dishes, glasses, or food with the dirty or sick customers they may have come in direct contact with.

Hand Wash Sinks

All hand wash sinks need soap, disposable towels, hot water, and a sign reminding employees to wash their hands. Also, if a sink is designated as a hand wash sink, it can’t be used for anything else such as filling up water pitchers or rinsing off utensils.

Create a Hand Washing Policy

Hand washing is the best defense against spreading diseases such as hepatitis A and norovirus. Protect your customers and your business by training employees about hand washing and having a policy in place. A recent federal report found that almost 50% of fast food employees don’t wash their hands when it’s required. Read more here:

Most Fast-Food Workers Don’t Wash Hands Properly, FDA Official Says

Here are links to recent outbreaks associated with lack of proper hand washing:

Illinois Department of Health Links Hepatitis A Outbreak to Employee Handwashing (lack thereof)!

The Subway Outbreak

Any restaurant, big or small, has the potential for an outbreak if a good hand washing policy is not implemented, trained on, or tracked.

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