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Build a low-cost handwashing station for food safety on the farm

Quick facts

  • Hand washing is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risk of contaminating fruits and vegetables with foodborne illnesses. 
  • Hand sanitizer may be used after handwashing with soap and water, not as a replacement for hand washing.
  • Hand washing is an important part of every day on the farm.
  • You can build a low-cost handwashing station yourself.

Handwashing is one of the most important steps you can take to reduce the risk of contaminating your fruits and vegetables with foodborne illness-causing pathogens. Many of the diseases that can be transmitted through food may be harbored in the intestinal tracts of people as well as wild and domesticated animals. If a person's hands become contaminated with fecal material, pathogens can be transmitted to fresh produce.

When to wash hands

Wash hands with soap and water before harvesting produce and after breaks, eating, using the toilet, smoking, touching the face, coughing, sneezing, after handling manure or animals or other times you have reason to think that your hands might have become contaminated. 

Hand sanitizer is not enough

Hand sanitizer should only be used in addition to proper handwashing, not in place of it. Hand sanitizer is not effective when hands are dirty, and is not intended to replace proper handwashing.

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.

Handwashing stations on the farm

Where to place handwashing stations?

  • Near all portable toilets and in your packing area. 
  • In packing or storage sheds.
  • Near work areas so it is convenient for everyone handling produce.

If your farm is large, consider mounting a handwashing station on a trailer so it can be moved around your farm with workers.

How many handwashing stations do you need?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires one station per 20 employees, but you should have as many as needed to serve everyone who works on your farm. Even if you only have two employees, you should have handwashing stations where they are needed so it is easy for people to wash their hands regularly.

Water for handwashing stations

Handwashing stations must always use clean water that is safe enough to drink (potable).

Standard components of a handwashing station

Handwashing 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 spigot.
  • Liquid or bar hand soap (does not have to be antibacterial).
  • A greywater container to catch the water used to wash hands.
  • Single-use paper or cloth towels.
  • Covered trash container.

How to build a handwashing station

Building your own handwashing station is straightforward and cost-effective. You can purchase lumber or use materials you already have and adjust these plans as needed.

  • This stand is about 36 inches tall.
  • It uses a 5-10 gallon closed plastic water container with a continuous flow valve and a bucket to catch the wash water.
  • Hand soap is placed on the stand.
  • Single-use paper towels are located in a plastic dishpan drawer that is built into the stand.

Many dimensions of this stand are based on the size of the dishpan drawer, so measure yours first and adjust as needed.

Step-by-step instructions

You can download these building instructions. Use the download or print icons on the PDF to save to your own desktop or folder.


Other handwashing station ideas

This is just one idea for a handwashing station. You can make this any size and with any materials. You could use scrap lumber or an existing table or cart. Instead of using the dishpan drawer, you could install a paper towel dispenser under the top. However, the towels might get wet in the rain.

If you take a pickup truck out to the field, you could simply set the water container and supplies on the truck bed and place the catch bucket and trash can on the ground. 

Any of these handwashing station ideas can be used in the field, and also at your farmers’ market booth or roadside stand - anywhere you need to provide a place for people to wash their hands.

Annalisa Hultberg, Extension educator and Emily Tepe, horticulture researcher

Reviewed in 2020

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