The theme of 2021’s Global Handwashing Day, taking place October 15, is “Our Future is at Hand — Let’s Move Forward Together.” This theme calls for coordinated action as we all work together to promote worldwide hand hygiene during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
The Global Handwashing Partnership (GHP), a coalition of international stakeholders who work to promote handwashing with soap, recognises that handwashing is a pillar of international development and public health.
The GHP founded Global Handwashing Day in 2008. The main focus of the day was to spread the word about hand washing and the value of maintaining clean hands as an effective way to prevent diseases around the world.
Combating illness with hand washing
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Australia, it’s crucial we don’t let proper hand washing practices slip. Hand washing is one of the most effective ways of combating the transmission of the virus.
For food businesses, proper hand washing not only helps curb the spread of COVID-19, but is a critical step in preventing food-borne illness outbreaks.
The Five Ws of hand washing
“Moving forward together” with hand washing involves building a culture of proper hand hygiene through specific programs and policies. It may be helpful to answer “the five Ws” — who, what, when, where, why — as they apply to hand washing so that food businesses can create policies that make hand washing part of the everyday routine:
Who needs to wash their hands?
Everyone from delivery drivers to Food Handlers to managers should consistently wash their hands. In other words, proper hand washing is important for everyone, not just those directly touching food. Post reminders of this throughout all areas of the business, so people know that no matter their role, they should be washing their hands well and often.
What is the correct method for hand washing?
Properly washing your hands means wetting your hands, lathering with soap and warm water, rubbing for at least 20 seconds (or the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice), and cleaning your fingernails, thumbs, wrists and backs of your hands as well. Rinse, dry your hands with paper towel, then discard the towel.
Post the Australian Institute of Food Safety’s (AIFS) Correct Hand Washing Method Poster at hand washing stations to remind staff of what correct hand washing entails. Add reminders about why sanitiser is not a substitute for soap, as using soap is the most effective way to kill bacteria and harmful pathogens that may be on hands. Also, any residual sanitiser on your hands can contaminate food with chemicals.
When should staff wash their hands?
In a food business, you need to wash your hands at several points during the day. Before the shift, before working with food, after touching raw meat such as poultry, between handling different types of food, after using the washroom, after touching garbage, after smoking, before and after eating — basically, all the time! Post reminders around the business of critical times to wash hands.
Where should staff wash their hands?
Have hand washing stations available and easily accessible to staff. Never wash hands in sinks used for food preparation — ensure separate sinks are provided that are used only for hand washing. Sinks should have signage indicating its designated use.
Why is hand hygiene so important?
Good hand hygiene is an effective and affordable way to prevent the spread of diseases. Without proper hand washing, bacteria can easily spread from one person to another, from a person to food or from food to customers causing a food-borne illness outbreak. Hand washing can reduce diarrheal diseases by 30 to 48 percent, acute respiratory infections by 20 percent and one study even found that regular hand washing with soap can reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 infection by 36 percent.
Proper hand washing should not be top of mind only during staff training or the COVID-19 pandemic. On October 15, let’s move forward together in creating a global standard for hand washing by making it a part of our workplace habits and everyday routines.