You’ve probably seen these signs posted in public restrooms — in fact, health departments in most states require them for restaurant and food service workers.
What signs am I talking about?
The handwashing signs. You know, the ones that state: “Employees must wash their hands before going back to work.”
While I do feel strongly that all employees must wash their hands after using the restroom, I really wonder if the signs make a difference. Would you remember to wash your hands after seeing this sign if you weren’t inclined to do it anyway?
That said, if these signs remind just one worker, it’s a plus.
But now I want to talk about a different sign I saw recently. On the back of the door of a fast food restaurant, I found a sign that said “Our employees wash their hands… and so should you!”
Handwashing is considered the number one way to prevent foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (aka the CDC) call handwashing a “do-it-yourself” vaccine that you can do to reduce the spread of illness.
Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities (like going to the restroom) is one of the best ways to remove germs and prevent the spread of germs to others.
You see, human feces are a source of germs like salmonella, E.coli, and norovirus. These pathogens can get onto hands after people use the restroom. Research by Franks et al. in 1998 showed that a single gram of human feces can contain one trillion germs. If not washed off, these germs can contaminate surfaces like tabletops, door knobs, and handrails, along with getting into food and drinks.
Now I know that this isn’t rocket science, or even new information. I was recently teaching food safety at a local restaurant and they showed me an old sign in their employee restroom. They said it has been there since 1958, before they owned the restaurant. It’s still hanging next to the current version of the handwashing sign. Perhaps the two signs together will at least catch the attention of their workers.
I like what this older sign say “State law and COMMON DECENCY… require that every food handler wash his hands after a visit to a toilet…” and so should you.
By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University
Help spread the word about the importance of handwashing with this fantastic PDF handout!
And here are a few more health and wellness resources, straight from the Nutrition Education Store!