Handwashing with soap and paper towels matters; water temperature doesn’t

There is no evidence that water temperature makes a difference in reducing microbial loads when washing hands. Two scientific reviews have reached the same conclusion.

So says wannabe broadcaster, potential Johnny Fever look-a-like and Rutgers University food safety professor, Don Schaffner, who continues:

An article in The Forecaster, a newspaper published in Maine (that’s in New England) was dramatically entitled, In tepid water: Many fast-food restaurants don’t comply with Maine health requirement, contends,

"The biggest burger chains on the planet fail to consistently provide … water temperatures needed to facilitate sanitary hand washing – despite state and federal requirements that they do so."

There is no evidence that water temperature makes a difference in reducing microbial loads.

The reporter "went into the restrooms of 14 area restaurants operated by McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s to check restroom water temperature compliance." While that might pass for investigative journalism, I would be much more interested if they had measured grill temperatures, or cold holding temperatures in those same restaurants. If the reporter was in the bathroom rather than the kitchen, I’d be more interested in the availability of soap or paper towels. Don’t get me started on hot-air hand dryers.

"There are no statistics that demonstrate how many illnesses are caused by improper hand washing."

Not so. Jack Guzewich and Marianne Ross have summarized the risks related to food contamination by workers and the appropriate interventions including handwashing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has clearly substantiated the role bare-hand contact by a food worker can play in disease transmission.

If you want to hear more about the intricacies of handwashing, water temperature and disease reduction, please check out episode 20 of the podcast I do with Ben Chapman called Food Safety Talk. Subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Oh, and one more thing. Buried near the middle of the story is the off-hand observation that "some of the restaurants have not been inspected at all within the last year.” That may actually be worth reporting about.

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About Douglas Powell

A former professor of food safety and the publisher of barfblog.com, Powell is passionate about food, has five daughters, and is an OK goaltender in pickup hockey. Download Doug’s CV here. Dr. Douglas Powell editor, barfblog.com retired professor, food safety 3/289 Annerley Rd Annerley, Queensland 4103 dpowell29@gmail.com 61478222221 I am based in Brisbane, Australia, 15 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time