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Friday, 17 April 2015

Hand Hygiene for Food Handlers - Is this required by Public Health law?

Hand Hygiene - Hey food handlers, wash your hands, it's the law!
Jim Chan

Proper hand washing is an extremely important step a food handler can take to prevent contamination of food and to minimize food poisoning risk in a food establishment. Often when food handlers are being asked by a health inspector if they know how to wash hands properly, most will answer “I already knew how to wash my hand”, or ''I'll wash my hands when they get dirty''. The best one I ever heard was from a chef in a hotel - ''My hands are in contact with food everyday and I don't clean toilet, so why should I wash my hands?''.

Even if hands appear to be clean, they may carry pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus and viruses (e.g. Norovirus) from touching nose,
mouth, hair, or soiled clothes. The best approach is for food handlers to wash hands before, during, and after handling food, such as after handling hazardous or raw food, sneezing or coughing, touching soiled or contaminated objects,smoking, after using the washroom, before starting work, before handling any food, especially whenever hands are visibly dirty or after finishing one task and before beginning another task.

Photo - Eat Smart poster

What is the law for hand washing in food premises?

In Ontario Canada, the requirements for hand washing basin and hand washing are specified in the Ontario Food Premises Regulation (updated July 2018).

Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act. O. Reg. 493/17:
Sec. 7(3) Every food premise shall be provided with,
(a) a supply of potable water adequate for the operation of the premises;
(c) an adequate number of handwashing stations that are maintained and kept adequately supplied and that are situated for convenient access by food handlers; 

Sec.7(4) The handwashing stations referred to in clause (3) (c) shall be used only for the handwashing of employees

Food handlers

33. (1) Every operator of a food premise shall ensure that every food handler in the food premise shall, Sec. 1(e) wash hands as often as necessary to prevent the contamination of food or food areas;

Maintenance and location of hand washing basins in a food establishment

Hand washing basin
  • Must be properly maintained and in good working conditionShould be accessible so food handlers can wash their hands often
  • Should not block the basin as it will discourage employees from washing their hands
  • Must be used for hand washing only and not for washing utensils or food preparation
  • Must have hot and cold running water, soap in a dispenser (no bar soap) and paper towels


During a food safety compliance inspection, when a Public Health Inspector observes evidence of lack of or no hand washing by food handlers, Conditional Pass (Yellow sign) can be issued as this is a crucial infraction. Inspector can also issue a ticket ($250 fine) if a warning has been issued before.

Here are some of the photos showing food safety infractions observed during inspection relating to improper use of hand washing basins and no hand washing in food establishments.

This photo (left) showing a newspaper being left in the hand washing basin and soap in a dispenser and paper towels not provided.

A typical evidence showing a lack of self-inspection by operator or manager and that food handlers in the kitchen have not been washing their hands regularly.

The photo (right) showing the access to the hand washing basin in this butcher shop was blocked
with equipment and other objects preventing
food handlers to get to the basin to wash their hands, also soap in a dispenser and paper towels not provided
in the food processing area.

In both incidents, the operators were issued with a Conditional Pass as well as tickets for not ensuring food handlers to wash their hands during food

handling and preparation.

If gloves are used when handling food, is hand washing still required?

Yes, if using gloves, hand washing should still be done before putting gloves on, during glove changes and after gloves are removed. Gloves are often perceived by food handlers as a barrier to food contamination or gloves are protecting them from getting their hands dirty. Staff may also carry out many non-food related tasks (e.g. handling money, emptying garbage bins, wiping counters) while wearing the same pair of gloves that they then use to prepare food. When wearing gloves for a prolonged period of time, without frequent changing and hand washing, sweating can occur and bacteria on the skin can rapidly multiply inside the gloves. When removing the gloves and without hand washing, bacteria can contaminate food contact surfaces or even food.

Can hand sanitizers be used instead of hand washing in food handling process?

No, the hands of food handlers are often wet, soiled with food or grease and can significantly reduce the effectiveness of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, also, hand sanitizers may kill bacteria but do not kill Norovirus. Washing hands with soap and water is still the most effective way to remove pathogens on foodhandlers' hands.   

Food safety message from Dr. Justin Beaver 
Health Inspector's Notebook Comic
Wash your hands

Center for Disease Control (CDC) website on handwashing to see if you know how to get hand washing done right!


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