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Last updated: 16.08.17

Food safety: Why washing your hands is crucial

When it comes to food hygiene in the kitchen, it is crucial that food handlers and professionals understand the importance of washing their hands regularly.

Bacteria is the biggest threat to food safety and usually develops from poor hygiene in the kitchen. In fact, germs can survive on any surface you touch for over two hours, according to the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). On top of this, ten million bacteria can fit comfortably on something as small as the head of a pin, doubling in number every 20 minutes, claims the Deb Group.

This is why it is crucial for food handlers and those working with food to understand the importance of washing their hands regularly. While we are unable to see, hear or smell bacteria, it can survive on our hands and is responsible for approximately 80 per cent of infectious diseases. The most effective way to prevent the spread of illnesses worldwide is by washing your hands regularly, argues the ECDC.

Here we take a look at some of the common ways bacteria is passed on through poor hygiene and the importance of washing your hands regularly, especially when dealing with food on a regular basis.

Food-borne illnesses

Every single year, thousands of people throughout the UK suffer from food-related illnesses that could usually have been avoided if hygiene was improved. This does include common illnesses such as sickness, nausea and diarrhea but food poisoning can also lead to more serious illnesses.

Historically, controlling bacteria has proved to be problematic because of the many stages food goes through, from processing to preparation, and from cooking to storage. Nevertheless, the majority of food-borne illnesses are a direct result of hand cross contamination.

This means that when food employees pop outside for their lunch or a cigarette or when they visit the toilet, they should wash their hands thoroughly. With food being produced, processed and packaged at a higher volume than ever before, there is a real risk of food-borne bacteria being spread among a larger number of people.

How wash thoroughly

In order to reduce contamination, those working and handling and working with food must be aware of their personal hygiene and the importance of hand washing. Employers can ensure that their staff are aware of this by effectively training them with available e-learning courses. This way they will be also understand the key factors in limiting the transfer of disease from known sources of contamination.

Food safety experts will often advise hand-washing procedures should be implemented and strictly monitored regularly. But the best hand-hygiene require much more than a quick rinse under some cold water. According to Deb Group, proper hand hygiene requires a proper protocol, appropriate hand washing or cleansing agent, and compliance (execution at frequent enough interval to prevent infection).

High risk areas that involve the preparation of food require the highest level of compliance from food professionals, so that infectious diseases do not spread. The government states that if food handlers think another member of staff has not washed their hands they must make sure they wash them straight away and emphasise how important it is to wash their hands when working with food.

To encourage thorough hand washing, employers should makes sure hand basins are convenient and have plenty of soap and disposable towels. Food employer can also retrain their staff and improve staff supervision.


While disposable gloves are a great way to reduce the spread of bacteria, they should never be used as an alternative to effective handwashing. When using disposable gloves you should still wash hands before putting them on and after you have taken them off. You should change them often - especially when handling raw foods - and throw them away after you have used them and if they are damaged.

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