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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, December/January 2005

Monitoring Hygiene

Keeping a watchful eye on employee hygiene will bolster food safety and minimize the chance of illness.

by Mike Milliorn

From a young age, we have been instructed us to wash our hands before eating or preparing foods, and within the food service industry this rule still holds strong – just with more details and critical importance.

Today, personal hygiene is one of the main causes of foodborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), poor personal hygiene of food handlers, along with improper temperature control, are the two most significant factors leading to foodborne illness.

So how can one define good personal hygiene? When asked, most people will list proper hand washing as the key to good personal hygiene. Others may say wearing gloves or a clean apron are the necessary requirements to fight foodborne illnesses. Although all of these are correct, there are many other facets one must consider to ensure food safety and a safe working environment for customers as well as employees.

Why is Personal Hygiene Important?

Food handlers can cause foodborne illness when they transfer microorganisms to food that they touch. Thirty to 50 percent of all people carry Staphylococcus aureus, usually on their skin or in their mouth or nose. This strain can cause severe illness if it gets into food. Infected food employees handling food are the source of contamination in about one in five outbreaks in the United States.

Washing hands thoroughly with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds can help prevent the spread of bacteria. By properly washing and wearing protective gloves, a food handler can significantly reduce the possibility of an outbreak.

How to Avoid Personal Hygiene Mishaps

To properly manage personal hygiene, food handlers must be trained to pay close attention to what they do with their hands and maintain good personal hygiene by washing frequently and wearing gloves. However, even protective gloves are not germ- free, cross-contamination can still occur if the gloves are not changed between handling foods.

“Some believe that by wearing gloves food is protected from the potential of cross-contamination. This is not true,” says Megan Bradley, technical adviser and certified food safety professional for Daydots. “The same rule applies to gloves as with other food preparation utensils – if you touch one food and go to another, this item has been cross-contaminated.”

The proper glove procedure is to remove gloves, wash hands and put on new, clean gloves between working with a variety of foods. Also, even if a food handler has been working with the same food, they should still change their gloves every four hours because bacteria and microorganisms can begin to grow during that time period. This is a common mistake.

In addition, it is the supervisor’s duty to monitor employee personal hygiene. One step to take is to design a checklist that includes employee-grooming guidelines. Managers and supervisors can set the checklist up at a checkpoint upon arrival where the employee can be inspected everyday to make sure they are bathed, wearing a clean uniform and free of bracelets, rings, watches and other potential sources of contamination. A good place is upon entry to the facility or at the time clock. A manager, supervisor or someone else in a leadership position should be appointed to this duty. Every shift should have someone assigned to this task who understands the critical importance of personal hygiene and takes the duty seriously.

Additional Challenges and Solutions

One common problem in food service training is the high turnover in a facility’s employees. It is a manager’s responsibility to hold mandatory training for new employees to educate them about the critical importance of food safety procedures, which includes good personal hygiene. Employees should not be allowed to work until they have attended these mandatory training sessions.

Another idea is to have a laundry facility to ensure that employees are wearing clean uniforms everyday. Some employees may not have the facilities in their own home to wash uniforms everyday. Larger facilities might have a small changing room or locker room available to the employees to change out of worn clothes when a shift is finished so they can leave their dirty uniforms and aprons to be washed. When they return the next day, they will have a clean, fresh uniform or apron waiting for them. Also with large facilities a locker room with showers might be available to ensure that the employee has bathed before working and if not, they can use the facility available at their work location.

Personal hygiene, such as daily showering and wearing clean clothes or a clean uniform, is highly important. Hair restraints should be worn to prevent employees from touching their hair while handling food and to prevent hair from landing in the food. Managers should make sure to always have extra hair restraints in case the employee forgets one or it breaks.

Additional personal hygiene problems involve basic cuts and scrapes. If an employee has a cut or scrape it needs to be cleaned and covered immediately. If the injury is on the hand then a glove needs to be worn as well as a bandage. This is also something that managers should look for while performing grooming inspections.

The results of improper personal hygiene can be severe, not just for the employee, but for the customer as well. For food service establishments to simply have a plan or a program to follow, it can have lifesaving results.

Mike Milliorn is president and CEO of Daydots (Fort Worth, Texas). Reach him at (800) 458-3687.

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