Hand washing and Food Hygiene
Infectious Food Handlers
Poor personal hygiene (especially hand washing) is implicated as one of the most likely factors involving foodborne illnesses; above poor temperature controls and inadequate cooking controls. The problem is particularly significant when the person handling food is themselves infectious, norovirus being a particular concern. Norovirus is implicated in the largest proportion of foodborne illness cases. However, shigella and hepatitis A are also examples of organisms that infected food handlers bring to a business. The ‘faecal-oral route’ describes the course taken by the organism on its way to a host, although vomit can also present significant problems.
As a food handler may be contagious some time before and after symptoms are exhibited. it is important that a high degree of personal hygiene is maintained at all times, especially through regular and effective handwashing. However, excluding staff exhibiting symptoms, such as diarrhoea and vomitting, can help to reduce exposure.
There are also number of organisms that enter the establishment, not in the human but, in the food itself. Raw foods, particularly meat and poultry, are obvious examples. Campylobacter, salmonella and e.coli are examples of organisms that may be transferred from contaminated sources to other food and equipment by food handlers by what is commonly referred to as cross-contamination.
Again, hand washing must remain a priority at all times. Glove use can help reduce cross-contamination in certain circumstances but must be used correctly should not be relied upon.
Soap and water remains the best way to reduce the spread of harmful organisms within the food business. Warm (hand-hot) running water will help shift grease and dirt and the correct washing techniques will help remove germs. Anti-bacterial hand soaps can help reduce risks. Sanitising gels or hand solutions should not be relied upon as a substitute for proper hand washing but may be effective as a secondary application.
Water flow may be initiated by sensor or knee/elbow/wrist operated taps. Where traditional hand operated taps are used it is iportant that the correct technique is used to switch off the tap (so that fingers are not re-contaminated); this is usually by disposable paper towel. Disposable paper towels are generally seen as the quickest and most hygienic method of drying hands.
If the wash hand basins are separted from other fixtures and fittings they will help prevent contaminants splashing over food or equipment.
Hand Contact Surfaces
Some hand contact surfaces present a higher risk of causing cross-contamination, for example: door handles/plates to kitchens and w/c’s, under/behind fridge handles and taps. Regular, daily, sanitising routines will help reduce the risks associated with hand-contact surfaces in all areas of the workplace (kitchens, bars and publicly accessible areas).
Toilets are a particularly high risk area. Ideally, staff should use separate facilities within an establishment in order to minimise exposure (you can, to some extent, control when staff are permitted into the establishment but have no control over members of the public and their level of personal hygiene). Toilet facilities should be well maintained and disinfected regularly. All cleaning materials and equipment used in these areas should be kept entirely separate from that used other areas of the premises (colour coding helps).
Food Safety Culture
A high percentage of food handlers do not wash their hands at appropriate times and, when they do, it is said that a third do not even use soap! Food safety training is an important first step for any business but good practice depend upon the fostering of a positive food safety culture.
- If staff understand why they should be washing their hands frequently they are more likely to do it;
- If staff are taught how to wash properly controls will be more effective;
- Hand washing is easier if hand wash stations are easy to access;
- If the organisation prioritises handwashing and places emphasis on it staff are more likely to follow suit;
- Reminders, cues and signage can be provided to encourage hand washing; and
- Everyone must be encouraged to prompt handwashing by others when appropriate.