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Chef Peter Fulgenzi
At Indiana University Health, Executive Chef Peter Fulgenzi uses a ceiling mounted camera system to keep a close eye on employee handwashing practices.

Getting a Handle on Handwashing

As hospitals focus on infection control, FSDs have turned to advances in technology.

Nelle Miller, Patient Services Cook at Swedish Health Services in Seattle, using the HyGenius Hand-Wash Management System.

When deadly bacteria—impervious to even the broadest spectrum antibiotics doctors have in their arsenal—invade the bloodstream or organs of already ill and hospitalized individuals, the death rate can reach a daunting 50%. That’s why minimizing the chance they can spread has become Priority #1 for infection control experts in acute care facilities.  

Preventing bacterial infections, especially drug-resistant strains such as Klebsiella, has also put handwashing and foodservice sanitation practices more in the spotlight than ever before. It is leading hospital nutrition services departments not only to put a stronger emphasis on employee handwashing standards, but also to implement new procedures and a variety of new sanitation aids to minimize risk.

These range from systems that measure the time and frequency of handwashing activities to some that prompt users to complete each stage of a compliant procedure. Many manufacturers of such devices support the Handwashing For Life Institute ( which is also a very useful resource for operators.

or this article, FM took a look at a few of the aids that healthcare operators are employing to minimize the risk of infection in their operations.

With fresh eyes: Peter Fulgenzi has headed up catering in hotels, casinos and other grand-scale venues across the country. Today, he’s executive chef at Indiana University Health and serves about 2,000 meals a day in various campus venues, where he has sought to get his staff 100% compliant with handwashing protocols. To help, he invested in Vision Enabled Training—a ceiling mounted camera system above each of 12 facility sinks. It generates daily reports that he uses to coach and encourage employees “to do the right thing,” he says.   

“Now, doing a one-on-one with an employee, I can say, ‘Let’s look at the handwashing study for the last 30 days; how do you think you’re doing?’” Being compliant is not negotiable, he says. After a few warnings, non-compliance leads corrective action citations and a variety of penalties.

: In a similar effort to improve employee handwashing efforts, Candace Johnson, director of nutrition and environmental services at Swedish Health Services, Seattle, had  the HyGenius (HACCP Hand-Washing Management System) installed at all four of the hospital’s locations.

The unit attaches to a handwashing sink with a computer screen that sits above the faucet. Employees enter their personal ID number to turn on the water, then follow prompts to apply soap, scrub for 20 seconds and so on.

Water is turned off and on along with the instructions until the cycle completes and the employee is asked to confirm that they’ve completed the handwashing routine.

“We have several sinks near food prep stations, and employees have no excuse for not using these,” Johnson explains. She also receives reports showing employee handwashing frequency and has policies in place specifying frequency minimums based on hours worked.

“It’s really highlighted that we’re focused on handwashing,” she says, and has led to some inter-facility competition to see which can achieve the highest compliance rates.

“Handwashing has become a standard part of our culture,” she adds.

At Emory University Medical Center in Atlanta, Director of Food and Nutrition Lynne Ometesays there is an ever-growing hospital-wide emphasis on hand hygiene.

 “Since we provide Room Service, we don’t pass menus as we used to at bedside, but we  do have audits—like Secret Shoppers—to monitor handwashing.”

At one facility, several other department representatives —including  Registered Nurse Monica Maher from the in-house Department of Infection Control—make rounds together to inspect it from the “Safety of Staff” perspective.

While there are always some on staff who may question whether all this attention is warranted, Indiana Healthcare’s Fulgenzi has an answer.

“Talk about ‘Return On Investment!’, he says. “The consequences of having an infection  problem in healthcare foodservice are catastrophic!”

TAGS: Healthcare
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