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Breaking Down the Handwashing Water Temperature Debate

Posted by Josh Kaufman on 12/5/2016 to Food Service

Chances are, you've been told at some point that washing your hands with hot water is better for killing germs than using cold water. In fact, a survey by Vanderbilt University of more than 500 American adults found that 70% believe using hot water is the most effective way to ensure a thorough cleaning. But is this just a perception, or does the science back it? Those who work in food service deserve some answers.

Health Departments' Take on Handwashing Water Temperature

Food service businesses need the approval of health departments in order to operate. Regardless of your opinion on handwashing water temperature, you must comply with health department requirements. Currently, health departments lean more to the warmer end of the spectrum. The current FDA Food Code, most recently updated in 2013, specifies that handwashing water must be at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason for this requirement is because the FDA has found that using warm water and lathering with soap is more effective than cold water at removing fatty soils that are commonly encountered in the kitchen.

This can be a challenge for caterers and similar on-location food service professionals who work at outdoor events or events where a traditional kitchen is not available. For this reason, many business owners have purchased heated portable sinks. The units make it easy for workers to maintain proper sanitary conditions regardless of where they are working. They provide warm water, soap, and paper towels all in one self-contained piece of equipment.

Handwashing Water Temperature: The Science

Based on health department requirements, the assumption is that hot water is best for washing hands, followed by warm water and then cold water. However, the science suggests that the differences in water temperature are very minimal. In 2013, Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and Environment research assistant professor Amanda R. Carrico explained that heat does kill more bacteria if the temperatures are high enough and the exposure is long enough. However, most people do not have the tolerance to expose their skin to hot enough water temperatures for long enough to make a noticeable difference. In fact, warmer water can cause skin irritation and damage to the outer layer that causes the skin to be less resistant to bacteria.

The facts show that it's more important to place the focus on proper handwashing techniques, rather than the water temperatures. The CDC recommends the following handwashing procedure to eliminate germs:

1.   Wet hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.

2.   Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

3.   Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.

4.   Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

5.   Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Additional Resources

Looking for an easier way to meet health department handwashing requirements? Download our Free Health Department Compliance Solutions Bulletin and request a Free Handwashing Sign at FoodSinksTB.com.

You can also get 10% Off on All Online Orders when you use promo code FS2017TB. 

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