Handwashing at Food Facilities

Marin County's Food Safety Program

Marin Environmental Health Services' Consumer Protection inspectors are on the front lines of food safety ensuring that food facilities (restaurant, bakery, deli, bar, grocery store etc.)  in Marin County are equipped with the knowledge and guidance to provide safe food to you and your family.
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 the inspection, indicating the facility's level of regulatory compliance. See our website to explore recent restaurant inspection results.

Washed Hands Prevent Food Poisoning

One of the CDC's top five risk factors responsible for food poisoning is employee health and hygiene. Good handwashing practice is a key part of employee hygiene. Foodborne illnesses are often caused by food handlers touching food with contaminated hands.
Handwashing keeps you healthy; life is better with clean hands. Learn more at www.cdc.gov/handwashing

Violations During Inspections

During a routine inspection of a food facility (restaurant, bakery, deli, bar, grocery store, etc.), Marin County EHS inspectors observe whether food handlers wash their hands when they are contaminated and before touching food or food contact surfaces. 
Major handwashing violations occur when there is direct contamination of food or food contact surfaces and must be immediately corrected. 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 before handling food.
  • Dishwashing employee who loads dirty dishes into dishwasher, then stacks clean dishes without washing hands.

Facilities with Major Handwashing Violations

Facilities with repeat handwashing violations have been identified in order to help inspectors focus their efforts 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 risk of foodborne illnesses at food facilities. Reducing major violations will also increase the likelihood that food facilities will receive a green "Pass" placard 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 59 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 established food facilities with consecutive handwashing violations peaked at 3 between April and June of 2018, and is currently in 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, consult with kitchen staff as to when handwashing is needed, and how to avoid contaminating hands when possible.
Educational visits will 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 while Marin County was in the Purple Tier (of the Blueprint for reducing Covid-19 in California), EHS inspectors began conducting remote inspections or inspections on-site, by appointment only. This presented the perfect opportunity to launch the Educational Handwashing Site Visits. While this was initially intended to reach just a handful of facilities that had received major hand washing 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.
Approximately 355 facilities have now participated in an Educational Handwashing Site Visit, including all 36 of the facilities identified as having major hand washing violations.

Revising Our Outreach Goal

Based on feedback from food facility operators, these site visits are a positive addition, and are helping people recognize ways they can improve on their handwashing. Operators are not the only ones learning! Through these visits, our inspectors are learning new ways to communicate with food workers.
Due to the success of this program, EHS inspectors are committed to meeting the new goal of providing handwash educational outreach to 100% of the full service food facilities on an annual basis. 
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 hand washing in the near future.