Susan Werro from The Society of Food Hygiene Technology (SOFHT) looks at how the food industry can better its hand washing training to improve food safety.
Food manufacturers like to believe that they have hand hygiene under control. It's a basic part of our lives and a prerequisite in the majority of HACCP studies. Yet, the reality is that poor hand washing facilities and poor personal hygiene are contributory factors in 17% of food-borne outbreaks.*
In fact, poor facilities and hygiene contribute to 170,000 cases of food poisoning per year at a cost to the food industry of £25m a year.
What should the best approaches be to keep the issue in check and to ensure that current methods are not failing the consumer?
Food manufacturers are legally required to provide an adequate number of washbasins, suitably located and designed for cleaning hands, provided with hot and cold running water, materials for cleaning hands and for hygienic drying (Regulation (EC) no 852/2004 'On the Hygiene of Foodstuffs').
This regulation also stipulates that food handlers be trained and/or supervised as appropriate, so factories produce a hand hygiene policy and train employees as part of their induction. However, evidence from the HPA suggests that food industry training and procedures are not currently sufficient to prevent food-borne infections.
So, what are food manufacturers doing wrong and what can we do to improve the situation?
When a new food handler starts in a business, the initial introduction to personal hygiene including hand hygiene is during their induction training. This is followed up with the appropriate Food Safety Level 2 within a set time. In the case of induction programmes, the new food handler is invariably shown the hand hygiene procedure by a trainer or line leader or, at worst, by a fellow worker when going into the food production area for the first time.
The training at this point can vary from detailed and informative to a brief walkthrough with little explanation. It could be argued that this is not the best time for people to learn about the importance of hand hygiene procedures and that there are better methods of training.
New methods include giving the new food handler a set of questions that will provide them with all of the information they need for their induction programme. They are then empowered to find the answers to these questions themselves. Trainers can then verify that the new member of staff has found the correct piece of information and that they understand the importance of it in their role.
Another barrier to hand hygiene is the widespread problem of occupational dermatitis. In the UK, the food manufacturing and catering industries account for 10% of all occupational dermatitis, which causes around 13,000 lost working days (information from ‘Occupational dermatitis in the catering and food industries, HSE Information sheet, Food Sheet No 17’).
Causes include water, soap, alcohol sanitisers, detergents and chemicals, but about 40% of cases in the food industry are caused by contact with foods (eg sugar, fruit, vegetables, spices, fish, meats). Both chemicals used for hand washing and availability of hand washing facilities are key in managing this risk.
The correct choice of hand washing products, designed to control microbial loading on the skin surface which comes into contact with food or food preparation surfaces, coupled with the right kind of hand drying facilities can help to reduce this problem.
- (Source data: Health Protection Agency eFOSS Report 2: Foodborne Outbreaks in 2009, published May 2010).
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This article was first published
in Food & Beverage International.