According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), it is estimated that up to 5.5 million people in the UK are affected by food poisoning each year¹, which costs the economy just under £1.4 billion. The CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.
With hands being the main vehicle for transporting bacteria to high risk foods, food handlers are consistently implicated in these incidents, with 36%² of outbreaks said to be traced to poor personal hygiene.
So, what can be done to improve the levels of hand hygiene of those operating along the entire food chain?
Dr John Hines, R&D Director at Deb Group advises that organisations should ensure that all employees understand the basic principles of food safety as well as their responsibility in keeping food safe as laid out in the World Health Organisation’s “Five Keys to Safer Food”: Keep clean; separate raw and cooked; cook thoroughly; keep food at safe temperatures; use safe water and raw materials.
While common sense dictates that hands should be washed before handling food, studies show that 39% of staff fail to wash their hands after visiting the toilet whilst at work and 53% fail to wash their hands before preparing food³.
Critical points when staff should wash their hands include after coughing, sneezing or using a tissue; changing tasks, especially when switching between working with raw meats and ready to eat or cooked foods; handling money, rubbish, tools or equipment; in fact, after engaging in any activity that contaminates the hands.
What products should you source to encourage regular use?
Dr Hines advises: “Firstly, it is imperative that you select hand hygiene products that will encourage ‘best practice’. It is also important that the skin care products are not only effective, but they are pleasant and easy to use; this in turn will lead to high levels of acceptance, thereby increasing hand hygiene compliance.”
What other factors should be considered when implementing effective hand hygiene practices?
The format for how products are used is very important in the daily challenge of implementing effective hand hygiene practices. Wall-mounted dispensing systems that are colour-coded for ease of identification have long been recognised as the overall 'best practice' solution for delivering skin care products.
The format for how products are dispensed is also of paramount importance; closed, sealed dispensing systems preserve product integrity and prevent any risk of cross-contamination. Such dispensing systems ensure the correct amount of product is used to minimise wastage and provide economy of material usage; they can also be permanently sited where they are needed the most.
In addition, organisations can also set an example by not only providing adequate hand washing facilities but through promoting the use of a fast-acting, alcohol hand sanitiser that will quickly and effectively kill germs and therefore reduce the spread of bacteria.
A hand sanitiser should be sited at the point of work to complement routine hand washing; it should be reapplied every 2-3 hours and certainly immediately after coughing, sneezing or touching surfaces or items likely to have been contaminated.
In addition to providing adequate facilities, what can organisations do to educate employees on the importance of adopting good hand hygiene practices?
Organisations can encourage good hand hygiene practice by providing a variety of support and communications materials to help reinforce hand hygiene training and messages such as posters and stickers as well as reminders on company intranets of the importance of keeping hands clean. With modern day substrates, such as removable wall vinyls, stickers can be used and replaced without leaving any residue on walls, floors or mirrors.
Dr Hines concludes: “By educating employees about the need to adopt good hand hygiene practices and promoting the use of a hand sanitiser, organisations could mitigate the risk of outbreaks linked to improper hand hygiene.”
So, by having a systemised approach to skin care, combined with programmes to educate employees about their skin, employers can provide a simple yet cost-effective solution to help all employees adopt good hand hygiene practices.
2. Hui 2006, CDC Frank Bryan 1988
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