Food Safe Truth Bulletin Blog

Business Impact of Hand Hygiene and Cross-Contamination

Will Hankla


By Will Hankla

Sr. Advisor, Public Health Innovations, LLC

Cross-contamination is a challenge that many food businesses, from restaurants to manufacturers, must manage constantly. One key way that cross-contamination occurs is from poor hand hygiene. Hand hygiene is not a new topic to those who have been in the food industry. In many cases, operators and companies are familiar with the concept as simply a requirement to do business. However, hand hygiene can create issues that the general manager should be aware of as much as the company’s food safety expert. Therefore, let’s take another look at this operational management challenge from the perspective of how hand hygiene can impact a business’s bottom line.

In a peer-reviewed outcome study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine,1 researchers analyzed insurance claims, attendance data, and employee surveys to quantify the impact of a comprehensive hand hygiene program. The effects of this hand hygiene intervention were studied over a 13-month period. Researchers found that, during the study period, employees in the intervention group filed 24% fewer healthcare claims related to hand hygiene-preventable illnesses, compared to employees in the control group. Additionally, employee absenteeism rates within the intervention group were reduced by more than 13% compared to the year prior to the study. From this study, we can see that a comprehensive hand hygiene program not only reduces hygiene-related illnesses but can positively impact productivity and business performance.

Other potential impacts to business operations and performance when cross-contamination occurs include:

  • Restaurant down time if an outbreak is detected
  • Full restaurant cleaning and micro-testing costs
  • Employee turnover from no work / pay for down time
  • Lost consumer trust
  • Lawsuits and settlements

There are many factors besides the hand hygiene product that deter workers from cleaning and sanitizing their hands. A few of these include:

  • Poor layout of hand sinks and overcrowded kitchens and processing rooms
  • Company culture and focus on fast service rather than customer health
  • Lack of appropriate hand hygiene supplies such as handwashing stations without effective hand hygiene resources

This month, during National Food Safety Month, take the time to take a closer look at your current food safety program – identify areas in which your employees are excelling as well as those that present an opportunity for improvement. A positive next step is to work with a trusted, experienced advisor who understands your food products and in-store operating processes and can suggest a hand hygiene program that best fits your situation.

By taking these steps, you are only making your food safety culture stronger.

1. James W. Arbogast, PhD, Laura Moore-Schiltz, PhD, William R. Jarvis, MD, Amanda Harpster-Hagen, MPH, Jillian Hughes, MA, and Albert Parker, PhD. “Impact of a Comprehensive Workplace Hand Hygiene Program on Employer Health Care Insurance Claims and Costs, Absenteeism, and Employee Perceptions and Practices.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4883643/. 2016.

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