Proper hand washing is one of the most important components of food safety – at home, in restaurants, and in stores. So it’s amazing that this simple but crucial procedure is so often ignored or forgotten!
(This video was made for our restaurant training programs, so you may notice some things that may not be appropriate to your kitchen, but it's a good training video for the home chef as well.)
Here are the steps for washing your hands when you’re preparing food:
Run hot water (as hot as you can stand) and cover your hands and wrists.
Lather your hands and wrists with soap, getting between your fingers and paying attention to your nails. Wash the backs of your hands, too, not just your palms.
Scrub for 10 to 15 seconds. (Restaurants usually require 20 seconds, but it’s proven that 10 to 15 seconds are just as effective.)
Rinse your hands under running water.
Dry your hands with a towel – it’s best to use a disposable paper towel, but a clean kitchen towel will also work. (Guys, this does NOT mean that you dry your hands by running them through your hair! For more about hair and food, click here. )
When should you wash your hands?
The list is very long, but here are some of the times that have to do with food safety:
After using the restroom! Your hands are always dirty after you use the bathroom, even if you’ve kept them dry. So wash your hands every time! Studies have shown that not only does hand washing help the food you handle to be safe, but it also makes you a healthier individual.
When first starting to cook. You’ve started to cut the vegetables, handle the chicken or beef, or pull out all the ingredients for your cookies. What were you doing just before? Are you sure? Chances are you were touching things that weren't clean. Don't forget, germs are everywhere, even in a clean home. The worst offenders around the house are computer keyboards, cell and land-line phones, door knobs, car keys, and mail. But anything can carry bacteria or viruses on them. Wash your hands!
After touching raw meat. When you buy raw chicken, beef and seafood, you get their “juices” as well. Any germs that may have been on the meat are hanging out in the juices, too. If you put raw chicken on the grill with your bare hands, and then start to cut the peppers and lettuce for your salad without washing your hands, the juices (possibly containing Salmonella) from the chicken are now on the lettuce. Chances are you aren’t cooking that lettuce to remove any germs!
The list goes on, but this should be enough to make you think.
What if you cut or burn your hand?
Even the most experienced chefs make mistakes and cut or burn themselves. You’ll want to protect both your food and the wound. Proper bandaging and protection will not only keep the wound from getting infected; it will also keep the food from any ointments or germs that may be present on the wound. Cover the wound with a bandage and keep it clean and dry. Wear a disposable glove if it’s in a spot that is difficult to keep clean and dry. (At this point, you might want to forget about cooking and go out to eat – in which case, you’ll want to know what you should be looking out for at a restaurant, so click here).
Hand washing is one of the most important things for anyone who handles food to understand and practice, regardless of whether you cook for the public or for your family.