Study suggests restaurant workers aren't washing their hands correctly

Washing your hands: a life skill that ranks pretty high up there alongside riding a bike. But according to a new study, it might be time for all of us to put the training wheels back on—especially if you work in a restaurant.

According to CNN, a new experiment conducted by the USDA looking at 383 participants in six test kitchen facilities found that 97 percent of the time, restaurant workers are still not washing their hands up to the CDC's standards.

Aside from exposing an unsettling number of people who don't even dry their hands post-washing (not the most comforting idea to think about if you're eating out at a restaurant), the study found that half its participants, after preparing burgers, were able to spread bacteria to objects, like spice containers. Other everyday surfaces, like refrigerator door handles, were exposed to bacteria 11 percent of the time.

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What your fast food worker won't tell you
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What your fast food worker won't tell you

After we cook something, we put it in a holding cabinet and set a timer.

When the timer goes off, we’re supposed to throw it out. But often, we just reheat the food. So for the freshest meal, come between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. More people are in the restaurant then, so we’re cooking and serving new food constantly. (These are the worst meals you could order at a restaurant, by the way.)

That plain chicken breast may have been a healthy choice out of the package...

But sometimes we have to slather it with butter just to make sure it doesn’t stick to the grill. On the other hand, these healthy fast foods can satisfy unhealthy cravings.

There’s usually a way to get expensive menu items for less

If you’re craving a Big Mac, for example, order a $1 McDouble with no mustard or ketchup and then add shredded lettuce and Mac sauce for a small charge. It’s basically a mini Big Mac, and you can get two for less than the cost of one Big Mac. Check out more trivia facts you probably didn't know about McDonald's.

Most fast-food joints clean everything with super-concentrated chemicals at the end of the day

That includes the grills and the drink machine nozzles. If you’re one of the first customers in the morning, you may be getting some of that chemical residue on the food or in the drink you order—or, worse. You won't believe what was found on the ice in some fast food restaurants. 

Those grill marks on your burger?

Not real. They were put there by the factory. If you want REAL grill marks, it's probably best to make your own at home with one of these burger recipes.

Most of us will cook something fresh for you if you ask

But if you want to make sure your french fries come right out of the fryer, order them without salt; that forces us to cook you a new batch. Then you can add your own salt, and they'll still taste the same. That's because of the secret ingredient that makes McDonald's fries so addictive.

Avoid asking for “extra” of something, like cheese or sauce

As soon as you say “extra,” we have to enter it at the register and charge you for it. Instead, just tell us you want us to “put a good amount on there” or “not to be skimpy with it,” and we’ll load you up.

Yes, our chili is made from what you think:

Meat from old burgers.

It makes me laugh when someone comes in and says she’s trying to be healthy—and then orders a salad with crispy chicken

At McDonald’s, some of those salads have about as many calories as a Big Mac. In fact, a small order of french fries contains four fewer grams of fat than a packet of our ranch dressing. Also, be wary of these "healthy" fast food choices that definitely aren't.

We’re timed on how fast we get customers through the drive-through...

...so we always prioritize those in line outside over anyone at the front counter. And after you leave the drive-through, use this trick to keep your fries crispy the whole way home.

One of my coworkers once got so mad that he spit in someone’s food

He was suspended for three days. Most of us would never do something like that.

Here’s a good way to know how clean a fast-food establishment really is:

When you get your drink, bend down and look up into the ice chute. If you see mold and other stuff growing in there—which is more common than you might expect—they’re not cleaning the machine as often as they’re supposed to.

Those gorgeous pictures of our food in our advertisements?

They’re airbrushed and touched up with fiberglass and paint. It probably takes two hours to make that picture. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to replicate that.

Please, please, get off your cell phone

I’ve had people pull up to the window, pay, and drive away without their food because they’re talking on the phone and not paying attention. Then they’re mad at me. Here are some more crazy stories from drive-through workers.

At most fast-food restaurants, it’s tough to give away free food

Especially things like burgers, because they’re inventoried. We can sometimes give away French fries, ice cream or drinks because we get those ourselves, but it depends on which manager is on duty.

We hate it when you order an ice cream

Most of the time, we’ve got to make it, and it’s already melting by the time we hand it to you. If you order four or five cones at a time, it’s almost impossible to get them to you before they melt everywhere, and then you want new ones.

Here’s something that surprised me when I started working at McDonald's:

Our clam grills are set at 750 degrees, and they can fully cook a regular beef hamburger in just 38 seconds, a quarter pounder in 70 seconds. The first time I ever saw that, I was like, 'Ewww.'

We’re happy to replace something if we mess up, but...

We can usually tell when you’re making up a story to get free food. There was one guy who found a pebble in our parking lot, put it in his food after he ate most of it, and then asked for a replacement. Another lady took 10 tacos home. The next day, she brought just a few of them back, showing us that their lettuce was brown. She wanted another 10 tacos. But of course, if you leave tacos out for 24 hours, the lettuce will turn. Love tacos? Here are some fun taco recipes to try.

Some fast-food workers definitely follow the 10-second rule

I have seen people drop food and then pick it back up and put it on the grill.

No, most of us do not donate our leftovers

I can’t believe how much food we throw out every day, especially at the end of the night. You, however, can do your part. Here's how you can cut back on food waste at home.

All fast-food restaurants are not created equal

Even restaurants within the same chain can vary widely depending on the owner and manager and what kind of standards they set.

When you take three handfuls of napkins or fill your purse with ketchup packets...

I don’t know what you call it, but I call it stealing. You’re just making things more expensive for everyone.

Please don’t ask what ingredients are in our fried chicken coating or in our special sauce

All of our recipes are proprietary, so they don’t even tell us what’s in them. But we can tell you why McDonald's Coke tastes better than anywhere else.

At some restaurants, managers get a bonus if they hold onto their employees and keep their turnover rate down

That gives us an incentive to keep people who aren’t very good, even if they don’t know the difference between a French fry and a screwdriver. And I’m not exaggerating; I’ve had employees who were that bad.

Most of us, even the managers, aren’t making much more than minimum wage

You wouldn’t believe the stuff we put up with for that kind of money. People constantly talk to me like I’m a two-year-old. I’ve had customers throw drinks at me and cuss at me. I’ve been held up at gunpoint.

At Taco Bell, most of our food does carry over, so we reheat it and serve it the next day

That’s why I never take my lunch break early. Plus, fast food can have some weird effects on your brain.

For the best deal at McDonald's, order off the dollar menu

You can get a lot of food for the same price as a meal and it will fill you up more.

We were supposed to wear gloves when we made food

But a lot of times my co-workers didn’t do it, and that really skeeved me out. Here are more dirty restaurant secrets the kitchen crew won't tell you.

Most of us don’t wash our hands as much as we should

Even though there are signs everywhere reminding us it's the law.

Look around to see how much trash is in the parking lot

And whether the bathrooms are dirty and if the dining room is picked up. When things that are so publicly visible are neglected, you can bet that even more is being neglected in the back and in the kitchen where no one can see them. That's just one of the things restaurant health inspectors wish you knew.

Once your order is in at the drive-through...

We have two minutes to get your food before the screen turns red, and the manager asks what’s going on.

We do laugh at you behind your back

Like when you mispronounce our menu items or when you think we can’t hear you through the drive-through speaker, yelling at your husband or kids.

When it was slow, sometimes we would all take the garbage out...

And smoke marijuana in the back. Really, it's true. Want more crazy food service stories? Here's everything your waiter isn't telling you.

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And, as Gizmodo notes, the way we wash our hands is one that's only continued to worsen: A study conducted by Michigan State University in 2013 found that only 5 percent of people were washing their hands correctly, which is actually twice the success rate of the USDA's findings. 

"You can't see, smell or feel bacteria," Carmen Rottenberg, deputy undersecretary for food safety at the USDA, says. "By simply washing your hands properly, you can protect your family and prevent that bacteria from contaminating your food and key areas in your kitchen."

Give yourself a hand-washing refresher with the CDC's guide.

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The best and worst fast food items of the year
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The best and worst fast food items of the year

BEST: JACK IN THE BOX'S ALL-AMERICAN RIBEYE BURGER

In October, Jack in the Box became one of several fast food restaurants offering premium burgers. The All-American Ribeye Burger consists of grilled ground ribeye beef patty, Havarti cheese, grilled onions, tomato, mayo, and a red wine glaze sauce on a toasted potato bun. At about $6, this fancy burger is worth a try. 

Photo credit: Getty

WORST: STARBUCK'S UNICORN FRAPPUCCINO

It's hard to know what Starbucks was thinking when it developed the Unicorn Frappuccino, a sugar-packed, color-changing coffee drink with more calories than a McDouble. The drink changed flavors as you stirred it, turning sweet to sour. If that sounds awful, don't worry: Like unicorns, you won't be seeing this drink around anytime soon. 

Photo credit: Reuters

BEST: MCDONALD'S SIGNATURE SRIRACHA

Topped with baby greens, white cheddar cheese, tomato, and a signature sriracha sauce, McDonald's sriracha burger brought a genuinely new flavor to wide release this year. At $5, it's more expensive than other sandwiches on the menu, but this tangy quarter-pound burger might just become a favorite. Plus, the sriracha sauce makes a great alternative to ketchup for your fries. 

Photo credit: Getty

WORST: BURGER KING'S FROOT LOOPS SHAKE

Just because two things are great doesn't mean they should be combined. Case in point: Burger King's Froot Loops milkshake, which is supposed to give customers the essence of one of their favorite childhood cereals, but misses the mark with a bland dessert with soggy cereal chunks. 

Photo credit: Getty

BEST: ARBY'S SMOKED ITALIAN PORCHETTA SANDWICH

Arby's expanded the range of flavors on its menu this year with its smoked Italian porchetta sandwich, featuring sliced smoked pork loin porchetta, banana peppers, Italian seasoning, red onion, tomato, lettuce, smoked provolone, a red wine vinaigrette, and garlic aioli on a toasted Italian roll. One YouTuber summed up the new item well: It's like an Italian sandwich and a Cuban sandwich "got it on." 

Photo credit: Getty

WORST: CHIPOTLE'S NEW QUESO

When Chipotle introduced its queso in September, people were decidedly unimpressed -- a review in USA Today called it "pungent, veggie-speckled cheese soup." Many criticized it for lacking the gooey consistency of traditional queso. The problem, it seems, was that Chipotle was trying to be health-conscious and opted not to use processed cheese, the main ingredient in true Tex-Mex queso. 

Photo credit: Reuters

BEST: RED ROBIN'S CITRUS HARISSA SALMON BURGER

It's difficult for a burger restaurant to expand its menu in a way that's tasty and not wildly unhealthy. But Red Robin introduced a good option for people trying to cut down on red meat without sacrificing flavor: the Citrus Harissa Salmon Burger, a lightly blackened 6-ounce salmon fillet with roasted red pepper harissa aioli, lemon wheels, citrus-marinated tomatoes and onion, and fresh arugula, all on a toasted telera bun. 

Photo credit: Reuters

WORST: WHITE CASTLE'S CRAB CAKE SLIDER

White Castle should stick to what it does best -- onion-and-pickle burger sliders -- and avoid incorporating seafood into its menu. Does anyone think eating a Crave Case of seafood sliders is a good idea? One YouTube reviewer suggested when to eat the new item: "If you're really desperate, and White Castle's the only option you have on Friday during Lent." 

Photo credit: Getty

WORST: BURGER KING'S RODEO KING

Burger King's Rodeo King burger has several things working against it: It costs almost $7. It packs in 2,270 milligrams of sodium. Worst of all, it fails to bring anything new to the restaurant's menu. Still, the sandwich's tangy Rodeo BBQ sauce is pretty tasty, so consider ordering the cheaper Rodeo products on the menu. 

Photo credit: Getty

BEST: CHICK-FIL-A'S SPICY CHICKEN TENDERS

The success of Chick-fil-A can be attributed in part to its willingness to keep it simple. Still, every menu needs updating from time to time, and these spicy chicken tenders are a perfect addition. They feature "a spicy blend of peppers," but otherwise follow the recipe of the regular tenders. 

Photo credit: Getty

WORST: ARBY'S DEEP-FRIED TURKEY CLUB

Arby's claims its limited-edition turkey club was "deep fried to perfection," but not enough to justify a steep $8. This hearty sandwich is topped with "pepper bacon, cheddar, tomato, lettuce, mayo, and other stuff that makes it a club," but ends up just being too much food and not enough flavor. That's a problem because, as one reviewer put it: "There isn't much room for error if you're charging this much for a sandwich." 

Photo credit: Reuters

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