Handwashing and the law

5 reasons to wash your hands when handling food

Look at your hands. Do they look clean? Maybe, but they can still spread many harmful bacteria, especially when you touch foods. Many studies and reports indicate that handling food plays a significant role in the spread of food-borne illnesses. If we paid more attention to handwashing this could be avoided. Here are some important reasons why you should wash your hands regularly when you are preparing food for your customers.

 1. It’s the law – for the person in charge

The recently gazetted Regulation 638 (Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises, the Transport of Food and Related Matters) is the new law that covers food premises and hygiene, and it clearly addresses the issue of handwashing. The section on standards and requirements of food premises stipulates that food premises need to have proper handwashing facilities. You will need to provide the following: “Food premises must have handwashing facilities which must be provided with hot water where possible, for the washing of hands by workers on the food premises and by persons to whom food is served for consumption on the food premises, together with a supply of soap (or other cleaning agents) and clean disposable hand-drying material or other hand-cleaning facilities or hand -drying equipment for the cleaning and drying of hands by workers and persons.”


2. It’s the law – for the person handling the food

In the section of R638 that covers the duties of a food handler, the regulation stipulates that:

“Food, a facility or container shall not be handled by any person

(a) whose fingernails, hands or clothes are not clean;

(b) who has not washed his or her hands thoroughly with soap and water or cleaned them in another effective manner.”


It then goes on to list when the food handler should wash their hands. This includes:

  • At the beginning of the day or the start of a work shift
  • After a break
  • After smoking
  • After using the toilet
  • After nose-blowing, wiping sweat, touching hair, mouth or nose
  • After handling a handkerchief, money, refuse or a refuse container
  • After touching raw veggies, fruit, eggs, meat or fish
  • Before handling ready-to-eat food
  • When returning to food premises


R638 finishes this off by stating that the food handler needs to wash his or her hands “after his or her hands have become contaminated for any other reason” – so that pretty much covers everything! So this is just a reminder that handwashing is not just a vital part of ensuring food safety in your facility or restaurant – it is a legal requirement.


3. It’s about how you wash your hands

It seems so simple that it is almost unnecessary to say it, but it is vital to train food handlers on the proper way to wash their hands in order to remove bacteria. Here are some simple instructions according to the experts. 

Hands should be washed for at least 10-15 seconds as follows: 

  • Wet hands under warm running water 
  • Use enough soap to form a good lather 
  • Rub all parts of hands with soap and water 
  • Lather for at least 10-15 seconds, vigorously and thoroughly rubbing all hand surfaces, including the fingertips and thumbs 
  • Rinse hands thoroughly with running water 
  • Dry hands thoroughly.


4. Clean hands are better than dirty gloves

The law does say that food that is served to customers must not be handled with your bare hands. Before you grab gloves, rather look at other alternatives such as clean tongs – use speared ones for raw and cooked food. If your customers insist on gloves then remember that anyone wearing gloves should wash their hands thoroughly before putting on gloves and when removing them. Hands are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, which can multiply in the warm, moist conditions inside a glove. This makes it even more important to ensure gloves don’t tear, and that hands are washed after removing gloves.

Another point to remember is to train your staff that gloves don’t remove the risks of cross-contamination – they can still cross-contaminate while wearing gloves, and this is often overlooked. If you touch raw food with your gloves, you will have to change them before touching cooked food.


5.     It’s for your health too

Those harmful bacteria can also make you sick. If you don’t wash your hands after handling raw meat or chicken, your hands can land up transferring these disease-causing microbes into your mouth and you could fall ill too. If you have diarrhoea or start vomiting you should not be making food for other people anyway so this can impact your business.

All in all, paying attention to hand hygiene just makes sense!

Bridget Day, www.foodfocus.co.za