restaurant science hand hygiene

The science behind hand hygiene in restaurants

Many customers are still afraid to come back to restaurants during COVID-19. 57% say they’re concerned they will touch surfaces someone else has touched.1 And they’re right, they will. But that worry can be minimized, especially if restaurants have a robust, science-based hand hygiene program and communicate it to patrons.

This overview will give you the scientific basics behind handwashing and sanitizing, and their role in preventing the spread of the virus. Then you can help your customers feel more confident in coming back.

Understand the organisms that hand hygiene helps fight

Microbiology, the study of living organisms, helps us understand the three main types of microorganisms that hand hygiene seeks to defeat:

  1. Bacteria are microscopic, single-cell organisms. Though small, they are extremely powerful and can survive extreme conditions.2
  2. Yeast and fungi. While these unicellular organisms sometimes play a positive role in food service – such as in baking bread and brewing beer – they can also cause food-borne illnesses and spoil food.3
  3. A virus is a microscopic parasite able to infect living organisms, causing disease. It is the smallest of these microorganisms and can replicate itself in another organism’s cells.4

Viruses in more detail

COVID-19 has made viruses top-of-mind throughout the world. Viruses also cause many of the most common illnesses contracted in our communities. Viruses can be divided into two large categories: enveloped and non-enveloped. These two groups have their own implications for hygiene and how we handle food.

The good news about the coronavirus is that it’s in the enveloped-virus category – the type of microbe that’s relatively easy to kill. Enclosed in a fatty, fragile membrane, enveloped viruses are not very stable on surfaces and can be killed with sanitizer, disinfectant chemicals and even soap and water.

In comparison, the non-enveloped virus lacks the fatty membrane, providing a much more stable outer shell, making them quite difficult to kill.

Hand hygiene 101

Microorganisms can be effectively removed from your hands by the process of handwashing with soap and water. When we clean our hands, we are cleaning our skin.

Learn how the skin works

epidermis dermis subcutis skin layers

The skin is the body’s largest and most complex organ. Healthy skin consists of several layers, the top-most being an extremely thin layer called the epidermis. Washing needs to clean the skin thoroughly but gently, to preserve this thin layer and the barrier it presents to germs.

In contrast to the healthcare industry, which uses a lot of sanitizers, the main hand hygiene method in restaurants, kitchens and the hospitality industry should always be washing with soap and water, then drying with a clean paper towel. Hand sanitizers cannot remove soil, so when your hands are visibly dirty, soap and water is the only hygiene choice. Also, sanitizers may not be sufficiently effective against parasites.

Know what’s in your soap

All types of liquid soap have similar ingredients.

hand washing soap ingredients
  • Water
    Water helps liquify the soap, enabling it to flow through a dispenser, and dissolves active ingredients to a useable concentration.
  • Caring
    Emollients and humectants soften and moisturize the skin, replacing oils that have been washed off. These ingredients help prevent the soap from damaging the skin.
  • Cleaning
    Surfactants in soap help loosen and lift dirt from the skin.
  • Security
    Preservatives or boosters keep the soap fresh and ready to use.
  • Experience
    Some soaps include plant extracts for fragrance or vitamins to create a nicer soap experience. Experience ingredients are much more common in products used for customer-facing areas.
  • Antibacterial
    Also called medicated soaps, have a special ingredient that specifically kills microorganisms, usually bacteria. It’s extremely important to follow the usage instructions on antibacterial soap as they are proven to work best in the right concentration.

Don’t forget to dry!

Dry hands are safer hands

Drying your hands is just as important as washing. Dry hands are safer hands, because damp hands pick up more bacteria from the environment. It’s crucial to dry with a clean paper towel, which will remove dead skin cells and even more bacteria and viruses.

Use sanitizer appropriately

Sanitizers are a leave-on product that you rub into your hands and let air dry. They usually have an alcohol ingredient that kills bacteria and viruses. Sanitizers should be used on dry, clean looking hands as they cannot remove dirt. Sanitizers are an excellent choice for reducing the risk of disease transmission as they kill bacteria and viruses. Restaurants can place sanitizers on tables, counters, shared spaces, and at the entrance and exit. Help boost customer confidence by making hygiene products readily available.

Hand hygiene in the kitchen

Remember exactly when to wash your hands

Since you’re washing your hands so often in the food service industry, especially in the kitchen, it’s important to maintain a balance between having really good hygiene and protecting your skin. The main goal is to avoid cross contamination. Always wash your hands when:

  • Starting a new task
  • Changing tasks
  • Moving between environments
  • Moving between different kinds of raw materials
  • And, of course, when you’ve done something dirty, like handling garbage or dirty dishes, sneezing or coughing

A scheduled wash is also recommended to compensate for busy rush times in the kitchen where hand washing may be forgotten. For example, set a protocol to wash once an hour, on the hour. A scheduled wash does not replace the fact that staff should wash their hands when changing tasks. You can also use a poster as a visual prompt to help staff remember these occasions.

Use gloves safely

Gloves can be useful for protecting hands from heavy soiling or to portray a hygienic impression. Gloves can be especially important during these times as you want to show your customers that you seriously care about hygiene.

However, gloves can provide a false sense of security. They transfer germs between surfaces as effectively as hands, and non-surgical gloves can have small pinholes large enough to allow bacteria to move to and from the skin. The natural flora of the hand will multiply in the warm, moist environment of the glove. To use gloves safely:

  • Choose when to use them, and only for certain tasks
  • Change gloves frequently if using for most tasks
  • Perform hand hygiene (soap or sanitizer) after glove removal

Create and communicate a clear hand hygiene program

When you understand the science behind hand hygiene, it’s easier to formulate an effective program for your restaurant. Leveraging that program to help bring customers back requires one more step – effective communication to customers. That should include free-standing hand sanitizer stations at the entrance and other key areas, which by their simple presence communicate your commitment to health and hygiene. It’s also wise to provide signage in the bathroom, for reminders and instructions. You can even communicate your cleanliness program via the Tork Xpressnap® Fit dispenser. The AD-a-Glance® display panels make it easy to share hygiene and marketing messages and promote your brand.

For more ideas on how to use enhanced hygiene to reassure customers as they come back, download additional free resources from the global hygiene experts at Tork.

1 National Food Safety Month 2020: Technomic Survey, April 2020 (from the Outbreaks to Pandemics Webinar: Why the Essentials of Managing Food Safety Risk Matter, no link provided)
2 Healthline: Bacteria
3 Merriam-Webster: Yeast
4 Wikipedia: Virus
National Food Safety Month 2020: From Outbreaks to Pandemics: Why the Essentials of Managing Food Safety Risk Matter