Food Service Employees Should Practice Good Hand Hygiene

— Written By Ann Simmons and last updated by

Foodborne illness is an illness transmitted to people by food. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about 48,000,000 people get sick from a foodborne illness each year and 128,000 are hospitalized. An estimated 3000 people die from foodborne illness, so you can see why this is an issue of concern.

Certain microorganisms (living organisms that you can only see through a microscope) known as pathogens are the main cause of foodborne illnesses. These organisms are called pathogens because they are harmful and can make you sick. Some examples include Salmonella and E. Coli, which are bacteria, and the viruses Hepatitis A and Norovirus. Chemicals such as cleaners and physical contaminants like hair, dirt, bandages, and metal shavings can also make food unsafe to eat.

Research shows that families spend about half of their food budget purchasing food prepared away from home. Whether food is purchased from a restaurant, grocery store deli or provided by a caterer, when you purchase prepared food you should expect it to be safe to eat. Food service employees are required to follow the North Carolina Rules Governing the Sanitation of Food Service Establishments, which is based on the Federal Food Code.

There are practices that food service operations must implement to make sure food is safe to eat. You won’t be able to observe them all because in many places the kitchen area is not visible to customers, however it is usually not hard to spot personal hygiene issues, especially those related to handwashing.


Handwashing is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of infection, including foodborne illness. Food service employees should wash their hands in a designated handwashing sink in the food prep area before starting work. They should also wash their hands after the following actions: using the restroom, handling raw meat or poultry, busing tables, handling garbage, touching money, handling chemicals, touching service animals and after touching the body, including the hair or clothing. Employees should also wash hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing the nose or any time hands may be contaminated.

A food service employee should not leave a restroom without washing his or her hands with soap and warm water. To avoid re-contaminating hands, a paper towel should be used to turn off the faucet. If the bathroom door has a handle, the employee should use a paper towel to grab the handle.

No Bare Hand Contact with Ready-to-Eat Food

Ready-to-eat food is food that receives no further cooking before you eat it. You should not observe a food handler making a sandwich without using gloves. Depending upon the type of food being served, a food handler should use gloves, tongs, a long-handled spoon, or tissue paper as a barrier between hands and the food.

Cooperative Extension provides ServSafe training for food service employees to help them implement good personal hygiene and other practices that will keep food safe to eat. The next class will be held on Tuesdays, October 10 and 17, 2017 at the Agricultural Resources Center at 1175 S. Brady Avenue in Newton, N.C. On the second day of class, participants will have an opportunity to discuss food safety issues with one of Catawba County’s Environmental Health Specialists. For more information or to register, call 828-465-8240 or visit