Restaurant Hand-Washing Rules

Hand Washing: Where, When, and How

Dirty hands are some of the worst offenders in the spread of foodborne illness. The first step every restaurant owner should take to prevent the spread of bacteria within the kitchen is to install a hand sink at each applicable area of the building, giving staff the opportunity to wash their hands each time it's appropriate. Taking a common sense approach to hand-washing procedures will go a long way, but the FDA food code has laid down restaurant hand-washing rules that explain where restaurant hand-washing sinks should be located and how they should be used.

Where to Wash

Part 5-203.111 of the FDA food code states that there must be at least one hand sink inside or at the entrance to the food prep area and that it must be located "to allow convenient use by employees in food preparation, food dispensing, and warewashing areas." That same part of the code also stipulates that a hand sink be located inside or "immediately adjacent to" toilet rooms. Each of those sinks must always be kept accessible to employees any time they need to use it.

It's nearly as important to avoid washing hands where hand-washing is forbidden as it is to wash hands in designated sinks. Sections 2-301.152 and 4-501.163 of the Food Code states that staff are prohibited from washing their hands in warewashing sinks, food prep sinks, service sinks, and mop sinks.

There are dozens of different styles of commercial hand sinks available to get your hand-washing practices set up. Very busy kitchens benefit from a multiwash hand sink that allows two or more employees to wash their hands at the same time. Drop-in hand sinks are installed in work tables and countertops, while wall-mount sinks are affixed directly to a wall. The latter type is the best choice where space is limited and it's necessary to have a hand-washing station that won't take up a great deal of room in the kitchen.

Go the extra step and make it so that employees don't have to touch anything to get their hands clean. This can be accomplished by installing commercial hand sinks with touchless faucets or faucets with knee valves.

The FDA Food Code also has something to say about what supplies must be stocked at hand-washing sinks. Section 6-301.114 states that there must be hand soap, either liquid, powder, or bar, available at every sink or set of sinks. The next section of the code specifies that operators must also give staff a hygienic way to dry their hands, whether that's paper towels or a hand dryer. Finally, FDA restaurant hand-washing rules state that operators must post a sign near each washing sink that reminds employees to wash their hands.

How to Wash

The following procedure, adapted from the FDA's Retail Food Protection: Employee Health and Personal Hygiene Handbook, outlines the steps employees should take each time they wash their hands.

  1. Rinse hands with warm, clean, running water.
  2. Apply soap to hands and rub vigorously for at least 15 seconds with particular attention to the areas between fingers, under fingernails, wrists, and forearms.
  3. Rinse hands thoroughly under clean, warm, running water.
  4. Dry hands and arms with approved paper towel or hand dryer.

When to Wash

As important as training staff how to wash their hands is teaching them when to wash them. Also adapted from the FDA's hygiene handbook, the following list details when employees should wash their hands.

  • Each time they enter the food prep area.
  • Before putting on a new pair of gloves.
  • Before performing any food prep task.
  • Before touching clean food equipment or serving utensils.
  • When moving on to a new task.
  • When preparing to handle ready-to-eat food after handling raw food.
  • After touching soiled dishes, utensils, or equipment.
  • After touching any part of the body other than clean hands.
  • After visiting the restroom.
  • After coughing, sneezing, or nose blowing.
  • After eating, drinking, or using tobacco.
  • After touching or caring for a service animal.
  • After handling or caring for aquatic animals including mollusks, shellfish, and crustaceans in display tanks.

Footnotes