Even though the importance of frequent and thorough handwashing is communicated to restaurant workers almost nonstop, the message may not be getting through as we hoped—and customers are noticing. A just-released survey turns up the disturbing result that one in five U.S. consumers has witnessed restaurant employees fail to wash their hands while on duty.
This number comes from an online survey conducted by KRC Research for global hygiene company SCA. The primary finding was that there is a sizable gap between how U.S. consumers self-describe their personal handwashing habits—71 percent say they wash their hands frequently—and what they see when observing other’s handwashing behavior. Fifty-eight percent of respondents have seen others leave a public restroom without washing their hands, 35 percent have witnessed coworkers leave a restroom without washing and 20 percent said they had watched while restaurant workers didn’t wash their hands “at all.”
The implications for cross-contamination or foodborne illness in restaurant food preparation areas are significant, especially as flu season approaches.
What to do? We’d like to say the situation could be remedied by more education and training. But let’s face it: if you work in a commercial kitchen, you’ve been told over and over and over again that you have to wash your hands multiple times during your shift, and not just after bathroom breaks. The problem isn’t that foodservice workers don’t know the importance of handwashing; it’s that they don’t do it as often as they should.
The general population has the same problem.
“While over half of SCA’s survey respondents believe that handwashing is important, there are still clear gaps in the relationship between beliefs and practices,” says SCA spokesperson and U. of Michigan professor of epidemiology Dr. Allison Aiello. “More work is needed to better understand how educating individuals can translate into improving practice.”
What can a restaurant operator do to encourage better hand hygiene habits? The SCA survey found that respondents “are encouraged to wash their hands in a public restroom by clean and tidy facilities (61 percent) as well as other small restroom upgrades such as hands-free faucets (61 percent), hands-free soap dispensers (58 percent) and paper towels as an option for drying hands (58 percent).” Adequate facilities, well stocked with necessary supplies, seem to be the key.
Some or all of these suggestions might encourage more frequent handwashing by your restaurant’s employees. But at the very least, the SCA survey gives you one more reason to stress the importance of employee handwashing: The customers are watching.