Prevent Bare Hand Contact with Ready-to-Eat Foods

The cost of an outbreak for a restaurant is estimated at $75,000. Learn how to keep it from happening in your food operation.

Keystone - News & Insights

May 24, 2017

People of a certain age may remember the commercial where someone says, “Look, ma, no hands!” Like so many ads, the catchphrase sticks around long after the product has been forgotten, and this phrase is certainly applicable to food safety today, specifically the preferred practice of not handling ready-to-eat (RTE) foods with bare hands.

Poor personal hygiene is one of the CDC’s five major risk factors that contribute to foodborne illness in foodservice operations, stating that the bare hands of food operators are the most common means of transmitting gastrointestinal viruses and bacteria to foods. And according to the FDA, handwashing is not enough, and bare hand contact with RTE foods is prohibited in the 2013 FDA Food Code.

How Outbreaks Can Get Started

Food workers carry out about nine activities an hour that should involve handwashing. Workers only wash their hands in a quarter (27%) of these activities.

  • Staphylococcus is naturally on skin and contaminates food through bare hands. It grows in food and makes toxin when it multiplies to 1,000,000/gram of food.
  • Human fecal matter contains 10,000,000 pathogens/gram (hep A, norovirus, shigella).
  • As little as 18 norovirus particles may be enough to cause infection.
  • 65% of outbreaks were associated with an infected person handling foods, many with no signs of being sick.

Preventing bare hand contact is critical when handling ready-to-eat foods, which include cooked foods, salad veggies, fresh fruits, breads, pastries, any food that will not be washed or cooked further before consuming. After washing hands, an effective barrier should be used with these RTE foods, whether gloves, utensils, deli tissues, anything to prevent bare hand contact with the food. And, of course, excludinge or restricting ill workers from food-handling operations.

Considering the National Restaurant Association estimates that $75,000 is the average cost of an outbreak for a restaurant, "Look, ma, no hands!" takes on a completely new meaning when it comes to food safety.


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