Every year 5.5 million people are affected by foodborne illnesses in the UK. A frightening statistic, which is made even more alarming when you think about how easily the pathogens responsible for foodborne illnesses are spread. Whether it’s from direct contact with other food, hands, equipment, surfaces or utensils, cross-contamination during food preparation is a significant factor associated with food-related illness.
Campylobacter – one of the most common pathogens – is considered to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning each year. Estimates by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have indicated that campylobacter causes more than 100 deaths a year, costing the UK economy about £900 million.
For a business, food poisoning outbreaks can have serious, potentially ruinous, implications. The business can incur food spoilage and wastage, as well as facing hefty fines and the risk of closure. If the news of incidents spread, bad publicity is also inevitable.
Hand washing should be a vital part of a business’ Food Safety Management Procedure to prevent the spread of germs, as poor personal hygiene accounts for 40% of food related outbreaks of illness.
To avoid cross-contamination strict regulations are in place: under the Food Hygiene Regulation 2006 all ‘food handlers’ are required to be supervised, instructed, and trained in food hygiene practices.
Companies also need to adhere to a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, which introduces procedures to make sure the food produced is safe to eat. It identifies hazards in the workplace, such as moments when cross-contamination could occur, it calculates the likely incidence rate and establishes preventative control measures.
Effective hand hygiene is widely seen as one of the most effective ways to prevent the cross-contamination of food. Employees in food-handling environments need to frequently decontaminate their hands – not just before and after contact with food, but before and after breaks, and at key moments such as after using the washroom, coughing, sneezing or touching contaminated surfaces.
And yet: research demonstrates that hand hygiene compliance is not always where it needs to be. Some estimates show that 39% of food-handling staff do not wash their hands after visiting the toilet, while 53% do not wash their hands before preparing food. This lack of compliance will have an impact on swab test failure rates and can have serious consequences for cross-contamination.
What can the food manufacturing sector do to change the situation?
Higher standards must be set in the food manufacturing sector. The Deb integrated skin care programme incorporates three dedicated elements to guarantee excellent hand hygiene in the workplace: Essential Products, Vital Information and Highest Standards of Behaviour.
For a skin care programme to be effective, a range of Essential Products need be accessible to all workers. Deb identifies a 4-step programme that can help maintain excellent hand hygiene and skin health in food-handling environments: applying protective creams before work (only where required); using appropriate hand cleansers after hands become contaminated; sanitising hands, and applying restorative creams at the end of the day.
Protective creams can reduce direct contact with specific physical contaminants, help retain natural lipids and moisture in the skin, and make the skin easier to clean. Some manufacturers have created products specifically for the food industry: they protect hands in wet-working conditions, improve comfort and skin strength when wearing gloves, and provide an additional barrier for skin that is exposed to refrigeration environments.
Cleansers are essential to remove dirt and contaminants from the skin during the work day, especially after breaks and visits to the toilet. Sanitisers, meanwhile, are recommended to kill germs and bacteria when hands are visibly clean but may still be contaminated, for instance after coughing, sneezing, or touching surfaces.
When choosing sanitisers it is important to look for products whose formulas have been independently tested and assessed by experts to demonstrate that the products are non-tainting and do not influence the quality and safety of food products. In fact, certain cleansers and sanitisers are now capable of killing 99.999% of transient bacteria. This rate of effectiveness is known as Log 5 reduction. Products that meet Log 5 requirements are 100 times more effective than the more common Log 3 products, which kill 99.9% of transient bacteria. This makes a sizeable and valuable impact when controlling the spread of prolific pathogens.
Restorative products are essential for maintaining healthy skin. Applied at the end of the day, they moisturise, nourish and condition the skin, improving its strength and preventing it from becoming dry or damaged.
It is not only crucial that the optimal products are provided, but that the workplaces are also in possession of all the Vital Information they need to maintain excellent hand hygiene. Whether this be expert advice from hand hygiene consultants, Site Surveys to ensure that the right products are in the right place within a facility, or Skin Condition Evaluations, it is essential that employers understand their workers’ skin care needs.
For a skin care programme to be effective, education is crucial. Skin care experts can provide training programmes and materials such as videos, leaflets, brochures and posters. Effectively educating employees will consequently drive compliance and promote Higher Standards of Behaviour in the workplace when it comes to hand hygiene.
By implementing a fully integrated skin care system, food manufacturers can do more than comply with food hygiene regulations: if they take a “hands on” preventative approach rather than a reactive one, they can address the threat of cross-contamination and hazards to the skin of employees jointly – making sure food remains safe, and hands healthy.
 Food Standards Agency (FSA).
 Dewall et al., 2006.
 Food Standard Agency (FSA)
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