Get Ready Mailbag: Get the facts on hand-washing

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an email to

Some senator said that restaurant employees shouldn’t have to wash their hands after using the bathroom. Isn’t that a bad idea?

Yes, definitely! Hand-washing is critical when preparing food, whether at home or at a restaurant.

Before we get into that, though, let’s talk about what that senator said. According to Talking Points Memo, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said businesses should be able to opt out of rules like employee hand-washing, using Starbucks as an example: “I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,’” the news site reported Tillis as saying Feb. 2. Tillis later backed down, telling The Hill that the statement was meant as a joke.
Historic 1930s era hand washing sign
CDC/ Minnesota Department of Health

But clean hands are no joking matter. Hand-washing helps prevent the spread of infection when preparing and serving food, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Food service workers who don’t wash their hands properly can make people sick. That’s why food workers are required by law to wash their hands, as you’ve probably noticed when you’ve seen those signs in restaurant bathrooms.

Hand-washing isn’t just important in restaurants, though. Everyone should follow these simple hand-washing steps before preparing food: Wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry. Be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, or about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

Hand-washing is a great way to protect yourself from getting sick. It prevents the spread of infection to family, friends and your community. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes hand-washing as a “do-it-yourself” vaccine, because it’s the best way to prevent getting sick or spreading disease to others.

For more information and fact sheets to share on hand-washing, visit the Get Ready hand-washing page.

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