Hands are used on a regular basis in the food manufacturing industry, yet not all employees are adhering to proper hand hygiene guidelines, inadvertently contaminating food produce through the spread of bacteria and placing consumers at risk.
However, employees’ hands are also fragile, and are forced to come into contact with a range of arduous materials, making the hands more susceptible to occupational skin diseases. Both food contamination and the diagnosis of an Occupational Skin Disease (OSD) could be avoided if effective hand hygiene practices were implemented and reviewed across all establishments.
It has been revealed that 80% of common infectious diseases are spread by the hands, and according to the Food Standards Authority (FSA), almost 100 cases of physical food contamination alone were recorded in the UK in 2014. This physical contamination of food produce can lead to product recalls or withdrawals and can be highly damaging for food manufacturers. However, it is a problem which can be easily combatted by implementing effective and regular hand hygiene best practice.
The Risks of Poor Hand Hygiene Compliance
Poor hand hygiene can impact employees too. Those working in food handling and manufacturing vocations are among the highest at risk of OSD. It has been estimated by the European Dermatology Forum that the incidence of OSD is likely to be between 10 and 50 times what is currently being reported, and it is often a risk which is overlooked by employers. However, failing to invest in adequate hand hygiene practices can damage employees’ hands, causing them to become red, sore and chapped. Each year, employees miss three million days at work due to OSD’s, and in more serious cases, this can lead to employees changing occupations altogether. This is a problem which could be prevented if employers implemented a more thorough skin care programme in food manufacturing environments.
Implementing a Hand Hygiene System
To ensure that food manufacturing and handling establishments are germ-free and skin disease-free, a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system should be effectively implemented and regularly reviewed. A system which is synonymous with food safety, it identifies hazards in the workplace, such as moments when cross-contamination could occur, or when certain arduous substances could irritate the skin, and calculates the likely incident rate. This system focusses on the anticipation and prevention of hazards in the workplace, rather than relying on end-product inspection and testing, improving productivity. Knowing the critical handwashing points, such as before and after visiting the toilet, before preparing food and after handling raw food and equipment is crucial for employees.
After identifying the critical points when handwashing is essential, employers must ensure that dispensers are filled with high-performing hand sanitisers and cleansers are placed in numerous critical locations in the factory to encourage food safety compliance from all employees. Whilst using these products at regular intervals will prevent employees from cross-contaminating food, it won’t effectively protect their hands from OSD’s. Instead a combination of different hand hygiene products to combat the immense strain that hands are placed under on a daily basis is needed.
The use of pre-work protective creams as well as after work restorative creams are also needed to ensure hands are healthy as part of an integrated skin care programme. The first step involves the application of a before work treatment to provide preventive care and protect the hands from exposure to arduous materials. Regular reconditioning of the skin is advised between washing to effectively restore the skin’s strength and health.
Ultimately, food manufacturers have a duty of care to protect both consumers and employees. However in protecting these groups through investing in a combination of hand health products and an effective HACCP system, food manufacturers will also benefit through increased productivity and profit margins.
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