September 02, 2013
September is National Food Safety Month, and we decided to cover some equipment categories that are off our usual beaten path, including nonchemical sanitizing equipment, hand dryers and hand sinks.
Hand washing is a particularly sensitive subject for our friend Jim Mann, executive director and chief scientific officer for the Handwashingforlife Institute, Libertyville, Ill. He wishes it was a more sensitive subject in the industry in general.
The institute is devoted to advancing the science of hand hygiene to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, there are 48 million cases of foodborne illness every year; 1 of every 6 people will “catch” a foodborne illness this year and chalk it up to a 24-hour flu that isn’t the flu. The CDC says that hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.
“In the chain world, efficiency is measured and rewarded,” Mann says. “Unfortunately, hand washing is not measured or rewarded in a formal way very often, and it can actually be considered an impediment to efficiency, which is really problematic.”
It’s not to say that operators don’t try to implement hygienic procedures; most do. But many assume that by implementing programs, they’re followed at the employee level. “Over the years, we’ve taken hundreds of unofficial surveys, asking seminar attendees, ‘How many times an hour do you think your employees wash their hands?’ and the answers will range from three to five to crazy numbers like 11 to 15,” he says. “The reality is more like a half a hand wash an hour, and a lot of what we call the ‘splash and dash,’” Mann says, nothing near the vigorous, soapy 15- to 20-second process that constitutes a proper hand wash.
Every chain has a checklist for opening and closing the restaurant, instructions for making menu items consistently, timers at the drive-through—these things are measured. “But I just don’t see that many formal, measure-and-reward programs that continuously enforce good hand washing,” Mann says.
While that operational conundrum is outside FER’s purview, the physical hand sink is right up our alley (see “Anatomy of a Hand Sink,” p. 42). Mann says half the battle is making sure employees have access to your hand sinks. “I’ve seen too many sinks used to store supplies,” he says. “A good program starts with a clean, equipped sink your employees can actually use.” Seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised.