Major Cause of Foodborne Illness: Your Hands

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Major Cause of Foodborne Illness: Your Hands

Dirty Hands Can Be Lethal Weapons

Hands off! Those hands about to touch food are probably contaminated.

And it doesn’t matter if your hands look clean. If you have touched anything, including your face, hair, or clothes, you probably have contaminated hands. And that contamination can easily spread to and from food, other items, or people. For example, back in 2022 spot prawns were considered the cause of a Norovirus outbreak; hands could then spread this outbreak to those who never consumed the prawns.

In recent years we have heard a lot about handwashing as a good way to prevent the spread of disease. The statistics back this up, especially when it comes to handling food. Hands are the source of most foodborne illnesses.

We all know we should wash our hands after using the toilet every time. If you have ever skipped this step, think about this: A single gram of human feces (poop) can contain one trillion bacteria. That’s shocking! 🤢 Wash your hands every time and don’t take your phone into the bathroom!

Hands also pick up and transfer germs from any object that has germs on it – and that’s just about everything. It’s hard to believe yet, 80 percent of common infections are spread by hands.

When to Wash Your Hands

If you are not sure when to wash your hands, the Canadian Government has a handy list of key times when you should wash your hands:

  • When they are visibly dirty
  • Before preparing and immediately after handling food
  • Before eating
  • After using the toilet
  • After contact with contaminated surfaces (e.g., garbage bins, cleaning cloths)
  • After handling pets and domestic animals
  • After wiping or blowing one’s nose, handling soiled tissues, or sneezing into one’s hands
  • After contact with blood or body fluids (like saliva)
  • Before and after dressing wounds
  • Before and after giving care or visiting someone who is ill or who is less able to fight off infections (e.g., someone with diabetes or cancer)

Not only does it matter when you wash your hands, but how you wash your hands.

How to Wash Your Hands

Washing hands must be done carefully, using soap and running water. Water alone won’t do it because water itself does not kill germs. To kill germs water would have to be hot enough to burn your hands. That’s okay for the dishwasher, but terrible for your hands. 🥵🙌

To do it properly, follow the six steps for proper handwashing

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Scrub your palms, the back of your hands, between your fingers, under your nails, and wrists.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a paper towel or a clean towel or air dry them.
  6. Use paper towel to turn off the faucet.

Hand Hygiene When Handling Food

Here’s another good piece of advice. We can minimize bare hand contact with food by using utensils, scoops, deli-papers, or single-use gloves – in other words by not touching food with our hands.

Speaking of single-use gloves, some people think that’s the answer to avoid spreading germs while preparing foods. In fact, many health authorities discourage the use of gloves because they give people a false sense of security. Think about it, everything that can contaminate bare hands, can contaminate gloves, so gloved hands must be washed as often as bare hands, and gloves must be changed after each task.

Single use gloves are recommended if food handlers have a bandage, open wound, long or painted nails, or are wearing jewellery.

If you are working in a food service kitchen, you must also remember that sinks used to wash hands, cannot be used for food preparation or dishwashing.

If you temporarily don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol to sanitize your hands.

For more about handwashing and hygiene, check out our Food Safety course.