Handwashing at Food Facilities

Marin County's Food Safety Program

Marin County Environmental Health Services (EHS) Consumer Protection program inspectors are on the front lines of food safety ensuring that food facilities in Marin County are equipped with the knowledge and guidance to provide safe food to residents, workers, and visitors in the community.
There are over 1,500 permitted food facilities in Marin County, all of which are inspected on a routine basis. EHS inspectors issue a green, yellow, or red placard at the conclusion of each routine inspection, indicating the facility's level of regulatory compliance. See our website to search restaurant inspection results in Marin County.

Handwashing Prevents Foodborne Illness

One of the CDC's top five risk factors responsible for foodborne illness is poor employee health and hygiene. Foodborne illnesses are often caused by food handlers touching food with contaminated hands. Therefore, controlling hands as a vehicle of contamination is a key public health intervention to prevent foodborne illness. Good handwashing practices are a vital part of proper employee hygiene.
Handwashing keeps you healthy; life is better with clean hands. Learn more at www.cdc.gov/handwashing

Handwashing Violations During Inspections

During routine inspections of food facilities (restaurants, bakeries, delis, schools, bars, grocery stores, etc.), EHS inspectors observe whether or not food handlers wash their hands at all required times. According to California Retail Food Code (CalCode 113953.3), hands are required to be washed at the following times:
  • Immediately before engaging in FOOD PREPARATION, including working with nonPREPACKAGED FOOD, clean EQUIPMENT and UTENSILs, and unwrapped single-use FOOD containers and UTENSILs.
  • After touching bare human body parts other than clean hands and clean, exposed portions of arms.
  • After using the toilet room.
  • After coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief or disposable tissue, using tobacco, eating, or drinking.
  • After handling soiled EQUIPMENT or UTENSILs.
  • During FOOD PREPARATION, as often as necessary to remove soil and contamination and to prevent cross-contamination when changing tasks.
  • When switching between working with raw FOOD and working with READY-TO-EAT FOOD.
  • Before initially donning gloves for working with FOOD.
  • Before dispensing or serving FOOD or handling clean TABLEWARE and serving UTENSILs in the FOOD service area.
  • After engaging in other activities that contaminate the hands.
Major handwashing violations occur when there is an observed direct contamination of food or food contact surfaces and warrant immediate correction. These include, but are not limited to:
  • Employees that handle raw meat and then proceed to handle vegetables or clean customer utensils.
  • Employee that did not wash hands after eating or smoking and before handling food.
  • Employee that did not wash hands after touching secretions of the eyes, ears, nose or mouth handles food or food contact surfaces (such as in use cutting boards and utensils).

Facilities with Major Handwashing Violations

Food facilities with repeat major handwashing violations have been identified in order to help inspectors focus their efforts in order to provide additional handwashing education where it is most needed. Our goal is to reduce the number of handwashing violations and in turn, reduce the occurrence of foodborne illnesses at food facilities. Reducing major violations will also increase the likelihood that food facilities will receive a green "PASS" placard consistently on each routine inspection.
There are two measures below that track facilities with consecutive handwashing violations -- one for established food facilities and one for newer food facilities who obtained a license within the past 6-24 months. 

The line graph below shows the number of established food facilities with consecutive hand washing violations. Data is added to this chart daily. The number of established food facilities with consecutive handwashing violations peaked at 58 between April and June of 2019, and is currently in decline.

The line graph below shows the number of newer food facilities with consecutive hand washing violations. Data is added to this chart daily. The number of newer food facilities with consecutive handwashing violations peaked at 2 between April and June of 2018, and is currently stable at 1.

Handwashing Educational Visits 

For those facilities identified as needing additional handwashing education, an EHS inspector will provide an educational visit to discuss the importance of handwashing, demonstrate proper handwashing technique, consult with kitchen staff as to when handwashing is required, and discuss how to avoid contaminating hands when possible.
Educational visits include demonstrations, instruction, and the distribution of educational material in the preferred language of the facility's management and employees. Our goal is to provide personalized outreach to at least 75 % of the facilities identified as having repeat major handwashing violations on an annual basis. 

Tracking Our Progress

In an effort to reduce the exposure of our inspectors and our facility operators to COVID-19 while Marin County was in the Purple Tier (of the Blueprint for reducing Covid-19 in California) in the Winter of 2020-2021, EHS inspectors began conducting remote inspections or inspections on-site, by appointment only. This presented the perfect opportunity to launch the Handwashing Educational Visits objective, especially with the added importance that handwashing plays in the prevention of the spread of COVID-19. While this was initially intended to reach just a handful of facilities that had received major handwashing violations during past routine inspections, we took the opportunity of the most recent restrictions to bring this education to many of the currently-open food facilities due for an inspection.
As of February 2023, approximately 710 full-service food facilities have now participated in a Handwashing Educational Visit, either virtual or onsite, including all 36 of the facilities identified as having major handwashing violations.

Revising Our Outreach Goal

Based on feedback from food facility operators, these Handwashing Educational Visits are a positive addition to our inspections and are helping people recognize ways they can improve on their handwashing. In fact, operators are not the only ones learning! Through these visits, our inspectors are learning new ways to communicate with food facility operators and food workers.
Due to the success of this program, EHS inspectors are committed to meeting the new goal of providing Handwash Educational outreach during routine inspections to 100% of the full-service food facilities on an annual basis after their initial Handwashing Educational Visit. 
We will continue to modify our approach to these visits/demonstrations as we learn what is most effective, and hope to broaden our outreach and demonstration beyond handwashing in the near future.