Clyde's hand washing competition

The mouth is the dirtiest part of the body—and not just the angry chef’s mouth. A close second: the hands. And while the ubiquitous “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” bathroom signs are great, the 12-unit Washington, D.C.-based Clyde’s wanted to step up their sanitation game. And so was born Clyde’s annual hand washing competition.

“The goal is getting the knowledge about clean hands out there,” says Clyde’s employee Katie Boyle, who organized last year’s event. “Some people think they’re a pro at this after several years, but that isn’t always the case.”

Every September, to coincide with the National Restaurant Association’s National Food Safety Month, Clyde’s holds the competition in each of its locations. The last competition drew 300 contestants.

Employees group together in teams of four and first answer eight food safety questions from a list of 25. Then the team members must all wash their hands in as close to 80 seconds as possible.

“They can’t use timers and we take the clocks down in the kitchen,” says Boyle. “Usually someone will count for the team.”

When they’re done washing, contestants rub their hands with GlitterBug lotion. Their hands are checked under a blacklight, which reveals residue of the lotion and, thus, any spots they’ve not cleaned.

It’s amazing how many spots are missed, given that these employees are trying to have perfect hands, Boyle points out. “Sometimes they’ll get the hard places and forget the obvious, like the back of their hand,” she says.

The competition creates excitement among employees, says Ellen Schroth, a food safety expert and founder of Food Sense, a food safety consulting and training firm. Schroth created the hand-washing contest for Clyde’s.

“It’s education but education can sometimes be passive,” she explains. “This was a way to make it more active and it’s playful learning. You can’t just sit people down and teach them. The more you can do as a team is helpful to get them working together.”

Representatives from the county health department judge the competitions, along with Clyde’s insurers and inspectors, and employees from the corporate office. There’s also a Spanish speaker to help out Hispanic workers.

The winners are announced and awarded prizes at the end of each location’s competition. Then the winning team from each restaurant goes to the championship, which is held at the end of September.

There are 14 teams in the championship—one from each location and two wild card teams that are usually the best back-of-house teams. Last year, the winning team took home $1,200.

Clyde’s restaurant group doesn’t wait for September to come around every year to crack down on food safety. Here’s what it does on an ongoing basis:

A food safety committee meets once a month. “A representative from each restaurant comes and brings up any incidents. We talk about articles [we’ve read], talk about how to promote safety,” explains Boyle. Each monthly meeting has a different topic such as health (when you should call in sick, for example) and cross-contamination.

Each restaurant has a safety board where information is highlighted. One location has space for employees to write down when they see others doing something safely, and others post safety facts and information about handling allergies.

Clyde’s runs safety games. One example is safety bingo. Each day without a food safety incident, a number is drawn which may or may not match employees’ bingo cards. When employees get bingo, they receive a prize. Another location constructed a wheel of fortune and whenever an employee was caught doing something safely they could spin the wheel and potentially win a prize.

Employees can hand out safety slips when they see someone doing something right. So if an employee asked another to watch an area with broken glass while they fetched a broom to clean it up, they may be awarded a slip. All slips are put into a box and three are drawn monthly for a prize.

Spot checks. From time to time some managers bring out the GlitterBug lotion and do spot hand-washing contests in which employees can win a prize.

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