Home Handwashing is key to preventing foodborne illnesses

Handwashing is key to preventing foodborne illnesses


newspaperHandwashing is an important safety practice in food preparation and foodservice, but the importance of handwashing to prevent foodborne illnesses actually begins in the garden or farm field.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 48 million people are sickened with foodborne illness in the United States each year, with 50 percent of foodborne illnesses linked to poor handwashing.

“Washing one’s hands with soap and water and drying them with a single-use paper towel is very important for mitigating potential contamination of produce and reducing foodborne illness. Whether one is picking vegetables in a farm field or one’s own backyard garden, proper personal hygiene is essential to food safety,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

Clean, sanitized hands are No. 1 on the list of food safety practices for harvest time, according to a food safety handbook for beginning and veteran gardeners published by Virginia Cooperative Extension. The handbook emphasizes that proper handwashing “helps to prevent the introduction of pathogens into the garden, risks of foodborne illness are minimized, and the safety of the final product increases.”

Banks said food safety and food quality certification “have long required handwashing for commercial produce operations, and they detail how it should be done. The Food and Drug Administration’s new Produce Safety Rule requires handwashing.”

The rule notes that people usually can see when their hands are soiled, but they cannot see bacteria or other microorganisms. It’s best to wash your hands prior to each entry into the field or garden to harvest, the FDA says. If your hands become soiled while picking, stop and wash them again.

Extension recommendations for effective handwashing are: Wash your hands with soap and water; rub them together for 20 seconds, scrubbing the backs of the hands, between fingers and under nails; rinse well; and dry using a single-use towel.
If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. However, sanitizers aren’t effective in reducing norovirus, one of the most common foodborne illness-causing viruses.

If there is no running water or sanitizer available, wear disposable single-use gloves.

A Handbook for Beginning and Veteran Garden Organizers is available at pubs.ext.vt.edu/FST/FST-60/FST-60_PDF.pdf.



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