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Restaurant Worker Hand Washing

What percentage of restaurant workers comply with the federal Food Code guidelines for hand washing?

November 19, 2009 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited



To avoid the cancer-or-E-coli conundrum, we could ask a restaurant to boil or steam our meat, but they’d still have to handle it correctly. You know how bathrooms in restaurants have that sign saying that employees have to wash their hands, well researchers at Iowa State University sent trained observers to 16 restaurants in the Midwest to count how often and how well restaurant employees washed their hands as they prepared our food.
How did they do? Now note that this is handwashing compliance with the U.S. Food Code guidelines, which are pretty strict—like you’re supposed to wash your hands every single time you switch from preparing one food to another, like from meat to veggies. So it’s hard to score 100%; at the same time, they had a researcher sitting there watching them with a clipboard.
Are you so cynical that you think they complied less than 20% of the time? 20 to 40? 40 to 60? 60 to 80? Any optimists for 80 to 100?
It wasn’t 80-100% of the time. Or 60-80. Or even 40-60. “Thus, there was zero percent compliance with Food Code recommendations for handwashing procedures”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

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Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out theother videos on foodborne illness. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on foodborne illness. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Tan Truong

    I know it’s pretty gross, but the “[p]roposed benchmarks for the number of times hand washing should occur
    by each employee… [is] 29 times per hour for restaurants” is quite high.

    • Ellen

      Think of the time involved in.washing your hands “29 times per hour” as a restaurant worker. To comply with the regulations you must wash with hot water for at least 20 seconds, then dry hands for a few seconds, then put gloves back on. In total, this would require over 30 seconds each time, meaning HALF YOUR TIME AT WORK would be SPENT WASHING YOUR HANDS.

      It is not practical.

      When I was visiting Paris I noticed that at sandwich shops, one person handled the cash. Other workers ONLY prepared food. This would certainly help avoid cross-contamination, although it does not solve the problem entirely.

      I doubt that American establishments would be willing to pay an extra person to do this.

      • Toxins

        Whilst in France this summer, all of the employees at the Boulangeries (bakeries) handed me my whole wheat bread with their bare hands and took my money at the same time with their bare hands. I doubt sanitary practices are emphasized over there.

        • Tan

          LOL. Did you eat it?

  • Occams_Razor

    Distressing news for a vegan that likes to eat out.

    • Tan

      Eat vegan at home (whole foods), and you win in every way you can think of.

    • Dom

      I’d recommend you avoid eating at non-restaurants as much as possible because I promise you raw meat contamination gets on everything.

  • Dom

    As someone who’s worked as a cook I can confirm that this is very true. Even though you will wash you hands when you’re not busy if the order’s are piling up you just don’t have the time.