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E-Monitoring Handwash History In Foodservice

Limitations from the past deter new-tech trials

Net/Tech, UltraClenz and Diversey’s initial entry (VET), are but three of the many failed electronic handwash monitoring systems tested by major US foodservice companies. What did they all have in common? personal ID badges - a distinct handicap in this high staff-turnover environment. The watershed-event of the Jack-In-The-Box outbreak in 1993 had illustrated the need for handwash verification systems. Technology suppliers responded, recognizing the new brand-damaging legal risk of unwashed hands. The MarlerClark legal firm raised the visibility of this new risk and the threat of legal action intensified the search for a solution.

Executional issues and the costs of lost smart-badges buried one trail blazer, Net/Tech. The Las Vegas casinos put UltraClenz on the map but service requirements and leasing costs caught up with them and they shifted gears to healthcare, eventually selling to Ecolab Healthcare. Diversey’s entry enjoyed initial success in a hospital kitchen but their inability to profitably deliver the solution ended their run.

Net/Tech and UltraClenz grew up together. By the time Net/Tech realized their solution had a limited opportunity, especially for favored prospects like Yum! and McDonald’s, they faced bankruptcy and a sale of assets to GOJO Industries. GOJO had already had some experience with a rather manual option called Signol. This monitoring system incorporated a patented technology where a counter was inserted into their soap dispenser to record handwash frequency by team. This system was responsible for many of the early research projects carried out in leading restaurants. GOJO later shifted e-monitorning priorities to healthcare and their development of today's SmartLink brand.

Data-driven solutions appeared to be the key to a sustainable solution, however, customer demand wasn’t strong enough to overcome the implementation and cost challenges. Growing pains of the early entry technologies soon turned terminal.

The most recent decade of handwash monitoring has focused on healthcare where ID badges are readily accepted and Healthcare Acquired/Associated Infections, HAIs, are reported. Three companies challenged the conventional thinking that badges were required. They recognized the difference between restaurants and healthcare and honed in on solutions engineered for foodservice.

Handwashing For Life® has worked with all three of the early pioneers. They each provided important learning for the next generation of solutions which we see today, advantaged by the era of wireless data collection and Cloud processing. Handwashing For Life's experience serves as an historical bridge to help the new avoid the existential threats of the old.

The regulatory community never got behind the concept of handwashing data as the base for sustainable behavior change in foodservice. Their support would clearly be in the interest of public health but they have surrendered to the limitations of the FDA’s Model Food Code which is driven by ineffective and infrequent personal observation, ignoring the math of electronic monitoring. The Code’s handwashing guidelines are not based on risk but on their entrenched auditing process.

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