Good personal hygiene is not hard to implement and monitor, but it is still a major problem within the food industry. The Food Standards Agency estimates that infected food handlers cause between 4% and 33% of all food borne diseases outbreaks in the UK.
People are a major source of physical and pathogenic contamination, so it’s critical that we all follow strict guidelines on personal hygiene. There are also moral, legal and financial reasons to prevent physical, pathogenic and allergenic contamination in food. Contamination is presence of any harmful or objectionable substance in or on the food and can lead to illness, injury or a feeling of disgust. The law is very clear about contamination and we all have legal obligations to prevent contaminants in food.
Good personal hygiene and reporting illnesses is critical in reducing the risk. All employees have a legal responsibility to maintain good standards of personal hygiene, report symptoms of food poisoning, heavy colds and certain skin conditions. Managers must ensure all employees and visitors complete the relevant questionnaires, agreements and forms. Failure to monitor and keep records could lead to an outbreak or harm a “due diligence defence”.
Poor personal hygiene and failure to observe fitness to work guidelines have been linked to numerous outbreaks of food poisoning. Most cases of Norovirus are usually a result of person to person infection or an infected person handling food.
Ready to eat foods are particularly at risk as they could be contaminated with low dose organisms at any stage in the food chain and will not be heated before consumption. So the best controls are for food handlers to observe high standards of personal hygiene and limit hand contact with food.
The hands are the most common vehicle for spreading contamination around a food premises. They an lead lead to physical, chemical and even allergenic contamination.
Nail varnish and false nails should never be worn at work. Certain hand creams and soaps could contain nuts and lead to allergenic contamination. Use hand soap and barrier cream purchased from a nominated supplier and not those purchased from a shop or supermarket.
We all know that proper handwashing can reduce the risk of food borne illnesses significantly, but statistics by the Food Standards Agency show a staggering 39% of food handlers don’t wash their hands after visiting the toilet. Washing your hands thoroughly usually takes 20 seconds and special attention should be paid to fingertips and nails. A tip is to use a paper towel to turn off the taps; otherwise you will contaminate your hands again. Drying your hands is just as important as washing them. Research states that wet hands are responsible for 85% of micro-organisms transmitted.
Food safety law states that protective clothing must be worn in the workplace when handling food. Suitable and clean protective clothing protects food from pathogenic and physical contamination. Pockets are not advisable as they can be used for keeping potential physical contaminants, including pens, sweets, money, etc.
All protective clothing needs to be stored alone to prevent contamination. A customer wouldn’t like to find dog hair on their food! Your changing area is also a source of physical contamination and needs to be kept clean and tidy.
One of the most recorded complaints of physical contamination is customers finding hair on or in their food. Tying long hair back, wearing hairnets and hats will significantly reduce the likelihood of hair on or in food, but some employees are still not following this basic requirement for personal hygiene. Additionally, always put on head coverings first to prevent hair failing onto protective clothing.
We all like a bit of bling, but a food premises is not a place to display it. Jewellery can cause physical and pathogenic contamination. Jewellery is not permitted, however plain wedding rings and sleepers are allowed if they’re clean.