Marleen St. Marie
September 24, 2020
What Does the Future of Hand Washing Look Like?
What Does the Future of Hand Washing Look Like?

Washing your hands is boring and not very glamorous, but it is necessary.  Especially today!  Hand washing is part of our everyday lives, whether we are at home or at work.  It is incredibly important, in fact mandatory, in the foodservice industry where handling food is a must!

Hand Sinks in Food Service Design

Hand sinks are an essential component throughout food service designs.  Not only are they required per health code in food preparation, service, or ware washing areas (depending on local jurisdiction), they are used as a best practice for personal hygiene, as well as the prevention of cross-contamination and the spread of germs.  As Jim Mann, the Executive Director at Handwashing For Life® Institute recently told me, “in foodservice, your hands are your tools.” He is absolutely correct.  Foodservice employees use their hands for everything… from prepping to cooking, serving, washing, and everything in between!

It is important to note that in a commercial kitchen, hand sinks are dedicated for hand washing ONLY.  Food or utensils cannot be washed in these sinks.  Hand sinks use a direct waste drain line (sanitary waste).  A complete hand washing station consists of the following: sink, soap, paper towels, and a trash receptacle.  While codes vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, minimum standards require hand sinks to be placed every 25 feet where there is food being prepared or cooked.  A good practice in design is to include a handwashing station at each workstation where practical. By having a complete hand washing station at each workstation, it is convenient, saves time, and is easy for the food service employee to wash dirty hands without traveling all over the kitchen to find soap or paper towels.

But we knew this.  Why a conversation about hand sinks?

Because we wonder what the future of hand washing looks like.  Has this pandemic alerted us to the fact that we need to be more vigilant in our hand washing procedures?    Are the current “best practices” to which we adhere really the “best practices” possible?  Should we be coming up with better solutions?

The answer is there is no singular answer.  It will depend on each unique situation.  Our job and duty as consultants, though, is to think about it.  To look at this seemingly mundane and insignificant subject through a new lens.  To lend our expertise to the problem at hand and offer solutions that will work in the setting now and into the future.

Play it Safe

Only one short year ago, clients didn’t give handwashing areas a second glance.  Today, with mounting concern about safety and the spreading of germs in the workplace, our job is even more crucial…to start the conversation with our clients about their expectations, their fears, their goals to exact safety in the face of today’s pandemic uncertainties and beyond.

Armed with this information, we task ourselves with creating design solutions to prevent the spread of germs and increase the safety of facility employees and patrons alike.  Clients want reassurance that not only will their facility meet code, but that it will include the “ultimate in safety” where handwashing is and should be involved.

Let’s delve a little deeper into a variety of solutions, some permanent, others temporary, that might make sense for your facility.

Is More Better?

One solution to further reduce the potential for cross-contamination and spread of germs is to install more hand sinks so that it is easier and more convenient for employees to wash their hands.  While this sounds good, we must be careful that the addition of sinks is not just a knee-jerk response to perceived safety concerns.  Other factors must be weighed.  We must be mindful of the placement of hand sinks in regard to keeping a clear separation of traffic between clean and dirty areas.  And while adding hand sinks might be a great solution, it does come with some cost implications.  Not only will the food service equipment costs increase with the addition of the hand sink itself, but the associated pipes for hot and cold water plus a drain will also add to the cost.  Ultimately, the question is, do we increase the safety benefits for employees by adding hand sinks and if so, do these benefits outweigh the cost outlay?

On the Receiving End of Things

Are there other areas of the kitchen or back of the house that would benefit from the installation of handwashing areas?  While we as food service consultants always design per health code and best practices by including hand sinks in all required areas, our attention is now brought to incorporating additional hand sinks to back of house areas such as receiving.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  Many times, we design an area within the receiving footprint to account for the inventory (food or non-food) arriving in a variety of boxes, bags, and packages that is then dispersed throughout the building.  It makes perfect sense to incorporate a handwashing sink here as well so that the employee can wash their hands before and after handling the product to reduce the transfer of germs.

What about the Front of the House?

 Do patrons feel safe eating at your facility?  Is it necessary to include handwashing stations in dining areas as an additional safety measure for patrons or even front of house staff to use?  Or are hand sanitizing stations doing the trick?  Will students and company employees take advantage of handwashing areas if provided in their employee cafeterias and dining halls?  Will people appreciate witnessing a FOH staff member wash prior to touching their food at pickup counters in their local restaurant?  Will handwashing stations be used now but a year down the road, abandoned, a relic of the uncertainties and fears faced during pandemic times?

Perhaps in the right scenario the answer lies in temporary mobile stations that do not require infrastructure necessary to support a hand sink.  Several manufacturers offer the option for a self-contained mobile hand sink where there is a water tank and drain to a waste container.   And the benefit to this solution is that its mobility allows for it to be used anywhere you require additional handwashing measures.

 Operations Gets into the Act

 A major component to safety comes from the operations side of things. The reduction of “touch points” in the workplace equals less chance of germs spreading.  Hand sink manufacturers provide hands-free options such as automatic sensors and foot pedals to operate the water flow instead of having to turn on the faucet with a dirty handle or knob from the previous user.  Faucets with voice activation software can help reduce touch points as well.  Hand sink timers and even powders/gels, which show spots missed under a UV light, can help perfect hand washing techniques and training.  Hand wash monitoring and employee incentive programs are other great tools to increase the frequency food service employees wash hands throughout the day.  Installing time logs and checks as part of job responsibilities can help ensure that soap and paper towels are always full.

Don’t Forget HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points)

 Our designs incorporate equipment to advance “best practices” in handwashing.  But the other part of the equation is how well an operator ensures monitoring of these practices daily.  We would be remiss if we did not mention the importance of conducting HACCP analyses for every foodservice facility.  These plans alert the staff to critical concerns in the area of safe food handling, and hand washing is, of course, a crucial component.  Through analysis, we can begin to understand for example, where or if additional hand sinks are necessary, or if consistent staff training on basic handwashing measures is on par for successful safety where food handling is concerned.

Bottom Line…Handwashing is Critical!

A variety of options, both permanent and temporary, are available to reduce germs and thwart illness.  But it all comes down to basics.  The most effective measure is to wash your hands…frequently.  At home, at your workplace.  And always, before handling food!

Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Global Handwashing Day on October 15th!

By:  Marleen St. Marie | Project Manager, New York

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