DIV15/26: The Human Factor – Food & Hygiene Go Hand In Hand (28 October 2015)

Issue Date: 28 October 2015
Ref: DIV15/26

The Human Factor – Food & Hygiene Go Hand In Hand

When it boils down many businesses handling, preparing and serving food understand that the weakest part of their food safety strategy will be the human factor. Even with the best training, best processes and best products the small lapses in concentration among employees who forget to clean their hands regularly – or properly - can have potentially disastrous results. Making this most basic aspect of personal hygiene as simple as possible will help increase compliance rates, develop a safety-first culture and crucially reduce the number of outbreaks.

The latest figures from the Food Standard Agency, the Government body responsible for food safety in the UK, suggest over half a million cases of food poisoning each year are caused by known pathogens. If unknown pathogens were included the figure would more than double. Campylobacter is the most common foodborne pathogen, with over a quarter of a million cases each year. The two next most common causes are Clostridium perfringens (80,000 cases) and Norovirus (74,000 cases). Salmonella causes the most hospital admissions, around 2,500 each year. Poultry meat was the food linked to the most cases of food poisoning, with an estimated 244,000 cases every year.

All of these can be reduced by improving food safety and in particular with better personal hygiene. This is because the commonest pathogens that cause illness in a food environment are either introduced or spread by hand. When someone forgets to wash their hands when arriving for work or after visiting the toilet, for example, this raises the risk of bringing all kinds of bacteria, viruses and fungus into the workplace.

If pathogens are already present good hand hygiene will prevent them from spreading. Pathogens could be present in the food itself or on hard surfaces such as worktops, utensils and appliances used for preparation tasks. Touching a contaminated foodstuff or surface and then touching a previously clean surface will quickly spread the pathogen if other people then touch those surfaces themselves. This is why it is critical to always wash hands after handling uncooked food and when switching between tasks, and particularly when switching between raw and cooked ingredients.

Processes should be devised and tasks allocated to minimise these risks. This might include, for example, ensuring staff switch between different tasks less frequently. Effective use of surface sanitisers and disinfectants are also part of the equation. But neither will be as effective as they should if basic hand hygiene is not rigorous.

Hand hygiene does not need to be difficult or complicated. At the most basic level, using the correct soap, washing both hands rigorously for just a few seconds and then drying them properly with disposable towels is all that is normally required to achieve excellent hygiene. Diversey Care offers a complete range of hand hygiene products for food service applications which are effective against a wide range of pathogens. However, it should not be assumed that everyone knows how to wash their hands properly so this must be part of any induction training, and occasional spot checks and refreshers may be advisable.

The frequency of hand washing involved in many settings can lead to the natural oils and fats in the skin being removed which can lead to an increased risk of dermatitis. To avoid this Diversey Care recommends regular use of a reconditioning moisturiser cream to replace these oils and fats. Some of its hand hygiene products, including Soft Care Sensisept, Soft Care Plus Pure, and Soft Care Dermasoft, are specifically formulated to be gentle during frequent use and incorporate moisturisers for additional protection. Formulations without perfumes are ideal for food service because they avoid the risk of food becoming tainted.