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On-farm handwashing is important for food safety

Quick facts

  • You and your workers may know how and when to wash your hands, but often more training and encouragement are needed.

  • Hand sanitizer may be used after handwashing with soap and water.

  • Hand washing stations should be near all portable toilet units and in your packing or storage shed.

  • You can build your own handwashing station very inexpensively. See our building instructions below.

Example of a build-your-own handwashing station. Tank with water sitting over a bucket in a farm field.
Example of a handwashing station. Get building instructions below.

Your health and hygiene practices and actions directly affect the safety of produce because you handle the fresh fruits and vegetables that the public consumes.

Hand washing is one of the most important steps you can take to reduce the risk of contaminating your fruits and vegetables with foodborne illnesses. Proper handwashing is an often overlooked aspect of worker hygiene.

Even though you and your workers may know how and when to wash your hands, often more training and encouragement are needed.

Make handwashing an important part of every day!

Importance of hand washing

Thorough hand washing is very important, especially before handling produce and after using the toilet. Many of the diseases that can be transmitted through food can be found in your intestinal tract and released when you go to the bathroom. Contaminated hands can then transmit diseases onto produce.

Handwashing with soap and water is REQUIRED before harvesting produce and after breaks, eating, using the toilet, smoking, touching the face, coughing, sneezing, and any time hands are dirty or have touched dirty objects or surfaces.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers should only be used in addition to proper handwashing, not in place of it.

Proper handwashing technique

  1. Wet hands with water (it does not have to be hot).

  2. Apply soap and scrub for 20 seconds. Clean under your fingernails and between your fingers.

  3. Make sure to wash your thumbs, wrists and tops of hands.

  4. Rinse your hands, letting water drip down, not up and over your hands.

  5. Dry hands with a clean, unused paper towel or a cloth towel. Do not reuse hand towels.

  6. Throw towels in a properly covered receptacle.

Hand washing areas on the farm

Hand washing stations should be near all portable toilet units and in your packing or storage shed. Have a handwashing station near work areas and convenient for everyone handling produce to use.

If your farm is large, you might consider mounting a hand washing station on a trailer so it can be moved around your farm as the workers move between areas.

OSHA requires you to have at least one hand washing station for every 20 employees. Even if you only have 2 employees, you should have handwashing stations where they are needed.

Hand washing stations should be equipped with the following items:

  • A clean enclosed container to hold drinkable water. The container should have a spigot that can be turned on and off, not a push-button-type spigot.

  • Single-use paper or cloth towels.

  • Liquid or bar hand soap (does not have to be antibacterial).

  • Covered trash container.

  • A greywater container to catch the water used to wash hands.

Portable handwashing stations are also available for rent from many companies that rent portable toilets.

Build your own portable handwashing station

  • Place a large, closed, plastic container with a continuous flow valve (available at home improvement stores, camping stores, and some hardware stores) filled with drinkable water on a shelf, stand, pick-up bed or other surface at a comfortable hand washing height.
  • Use another large container or bucket to catch the wash water.
  • Place hand soap on the stand and single-use towels in a drawer or other covered container next to the stand. 
  • Download building instructions.

Annalisa Hultberg, Extension educator and Michele Schermann

Support for this project was provided to the Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program–Farm Bill, through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the USDA–AMS. These institutions are equal opportunity providers.

Reviewed in 2020

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