95% of People Wash Hands Wrong

Recently I came across a study on hand washing in the Journal of Environmental Health, it was lead by Carl Borchgrevink, Assosiate Professor at the School of Hospitality Business.  Professor Borchgrevink outlines in his abstract that he pretty much wasn’t convinced by the numbers presented by previous research on hand washing studies. They state that between 2009-2010, 94%-96% of people were washing their hands correctly after using public restrooms. Well, according to Borchgrevink the previous studies are flawed because hand washing is a “socially desirable activity” so when people are “asked” if they washed their hands they lied.

Wait, what! That’s how they did the study, of course they are going to lie. I know that statistic is untrue because I know people and I’ve been in public restrooms with them.  Professor Borchgrevink must know the same people I do. I’ve even had a friend, as he walked past me in the bathroom without washing his hands tell me that washing hands is for girls.  But think about it, to construction workers, office employees and students, why would hand washing be important to them when it is never talked about.

What Professor Borchgrevink did was put students from his program into restrooms around East Lansing Michigan, where MSU is located, and had them observe the hand washing behaviors of nearly 3800 people after they used the restroom and what they found was astonishing.  Only 5% of those observed washed their hands according to the guide lines written by the CDC for hand washing.  Now to be fair, the study points out that there were environmental factors that played into this that may have made hand washing correctly impossible, like soap not being available, but in the vast majority, the restrooms were fully stocked.

What this study tells us is that when we hire a new employee to work in our food service operations only about 1 out of 20 will actually to wash their hands correctly. This means training hand washing from day one is essential to a food service operation.  What this should also tell you is that one of the easiest things we can do to keep food safe, hand washing, is not being done correctly by most people.  So what about all of the other stuff that is not so easy like proper cloth towel storage or making chemical solutions, how about cooking temperatures or storage practices, most people don’t know the correct way to do these things and you can’t expect them to without proper training.  Food safety in a retail operation is the responsibility of the supervisor and owner to teach their staff.