Wash Your Hands, Please

May 05, 2005
Al McClain

By Al McClain

You can’t force people to wash their hands, but there are many times we’d all like to. There are some things we’d all be better off not seeing, such as the (lack of) good hygiene practices in men’s rooms at professional sporting events. (Seems to be some correlation between beer consumption and lack of hand washing?)

At retail, it’s clear that employees need to wash their hands, especially those involved in food handling, preparation, and serving. But, besides those ubiquitous “Employees must wash hands before leaving restroom” signs, what can really be done?

At the FMI show this week in Chicago, eMerge Interactive showcased its VerifEYE HandScan Hygiene System (www.verifeye.net). It is a wall-mounted system, about the size of a hand dryer, that checks an employee’s hands for contamination after they have washed. The employee puts their hands under the scanner and the system tells them whether it detects any residual contaminants that require further washing.

What it would presumably enable retailers to do is check the hands of food handlers to make sure their hands have been washed in a proper manner. The need for better hand washing is obvious and, while the benefits of this system are “soft,” they could be significant if retailers are able to prevent the spread of food-borne illness.

From an employee morale point of view, it’s an open question. Having a supervisor watch as employees scan their hands seems onerous, but perhaps necessary in some cases. And, perhaps workers will be more diligent as they see what’s actually on their hands.

Moderator’s Comment: With current hand-washing compliance rates across food-related industries estimated to be below
50% (yuk), the need for a better system is obvious. Can retailers seize the hygienic high ground and perhaps even a competitive advantage by being among the first to adopt something
like this?

Al McClain – Moderator

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4 Comments on "Wash Your Hands, Please"

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Terry Pyles
Terry Pyles
15 years 10 months ago

As one who spent a number of years in restaurant management, I can tell you this issue is an on-going concern in any self-respecting establishment. Nobody wants to face the nightmare that is the aftermath of an outbreak traced to your facility. What I find amusing is that sanitation practices in the average restaurant are a thousand times better than those practiced by the average person in their own kitchen. Funny, as soon as the average consumer suspects food borne illness, the first thing they do is start thinking about the last restaurant they ate in. In fact, the problem was much more likely to have been in their own home.

Rick Moss
15 years 10 months ago

The technology is impressive (although I’m certainly not one to judge its merits relative to other systems). It could be a great addition to a sanitation routine. Most importantly, workers need clear procedures for just simple, everyday activities: what to do when returning from break, from the restroom…after blowing their noses. This could simply be step 3 in a routine procedure that would become second nature very quickly. I don’t believe use of this type of machine needs to feel like an invasion of privacy or an implied insult if the training was sensitive to workers’ feelings.

Warren Thayer
15 years 10 months ago

Well, I got laid up for six weeks with hepatitis that was traced to a “typhoid Mary” restaurant worker in Westchester County, NY, about 10 years ago. (Couldn’t drink alcohol for a year after that, and the amusing part here was that when I went to food industry conventions, I was shocked by the bunch of drunks I saw at all the cocktail parties…until I came to the sober conclusion that, a few months earlier, I had been one of them. But I digress.) So I take this as a pretty serious problem. The system described sounds like a step in the right direction. Perhaps such washing stations should be out front where shoppers can see the workers wash up. And then a sign could be posted saying, “All our associates MUST wash their hands when arriving here to serve you. Please report any violations to the store manager.” That sort of thing might put fear of God into people.

Bernice Hurst
15 years 10 months ago

This technology may be very advanced but it strikes me as an over-reaction to a problem with a very simple solution. As far as I’m aware, most British supermarkets have sinks for staff in-store, in open view, in all departments where there is food handling going on. Staff also use disposable plastic gloves for various tasks.

Where customers handle fresh, unwrapped food, there is sometimes material available to prevent contamination. In the bread bins, for example, there are tongs and signs asking that they be used rather than people handling the product. Expanding this would be a relatively simple matter, particularly for fresh produce although people are also encouraged to rinse it before eating in any case, something you obviously can’t do with bread.

I’m a bit puzzled as to why such solutions cannot be introduced to American stores and quite naturally think that this new machine is designed more for the profitability of its manufacturer than any real concern for public health.


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