hand washing critical to food safety

Hand Washing is Critical To Food Safety

Why Wash Your Hands?

hand washing food safety

Hand washing is the second pillar of food safety and is the most important in terms of eliminating cross-contamination. Hand washing and clean hands awareness is critical to food safety. Dirty hands is known as one of the two main sources in which bacteria can be introduced into the kitchen environment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that hand washing is the single most important way to prevent the spread of infection. The other is the source of your business; food.

Faeces from people or animals is common source of bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli O157, and norovirus that cause diarrhoea. These kinds of bacteria and viruses can get onto hands after using the toilet or in less obvious ways, like after handling raw meats that have invisible, high amounts of animal faeces. A single gram of human faeces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion bacteria.

Bacteria can also get onto your  hands if you touch any object that has bacteria on it because someone coughed or sneezed on it or was touched by some other contaminated object. When these germs get onto hands and are not washed off, they can be passed from person to person and make people sick.

When should you wash your hands?

Hand washing in the kitchen

Hand washing should take place between tasks such as between:

  1. Raw and ready-to-eat food preparation
  2. Before, during, and after preparing food
  3. Cleaning tasks
  4. Entering and exiting the kitchen
  5. After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  6. After touching garbage
  7. And most importantly after using the ablution facilities

Creating Awareness here is non-negotiable.

One of the biggest causes of food poisoning in the kitchen and at home are hands that are contaminated with harmful bacteria. Kitchen hygiene consultants are mainly concerned with two types of bacteria Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

These bacteria are known as indicator organisms that will alert us to unhygienic practices. This being the case because, E.coli occurs naturally in the human gut and tell us that the possibility of unwashed hands after using the ablution facilities has taken place.

S.aureus can occur naturally in the nasal passages, also indicating unhygienic practices. These bacteria can also occur as a result of handling raw materials or on the skin of a person without harm.

In many countries it is a requirement to have regular health checks for food handlers to test for a natural S.aureus carrier and other infectious diseases. This is because regular antibiotic treatment would be needed, because these bacteria are also a heat-stable toxin producing pathogen.

Hence the importance of regular hand washing.

How to wash your hands in a hygienic manner:

  1. Clear off any excess food or dirt by rinsing under water
  2. Use a liquid hand soap and thoroughly wash your
  3. entire hand and forearm
  4. Rinse under warm water
  5. Dry your hands with paper towel
  6. Dispose of paper towel in a pedal bin
  7. Apply an alcohol-based hand sanitiser

Any kind of soap will get your hands clean, but there are a few special concerns in the food prep environment. Liquid soaps in a pump dispenser work best (that way you don’t have a bar of soap lingering around in a pool of moisture). Also, soaps used for this purpose ought to be very mild to prevent chapping, and without a lot of added ingredients that could end up in the food supply.

hand washing in the kitchen

Why can’t I just use a hand sanitiser?

hand washing hand sanitiser

For some, washing hands on a frequent basis can seem like a big annoyance. And the convenience of a hand sanitiser can be misleading. Although these hand sanitiser gels may be convenient and appropriate in certain situations, they are not acceptable as the sole use for clean hands.

There are several reasons for this:

  1. Raw meats are unusually fatty and have a high bacterial load. This means that you need to physically remove the fat before a sanitiser can be used.
  2. Any dirt or silly substance allows bacteria to ‘hide’ on your hands. This is why soap is need first.
  3. Another reason why hand sanitisers can’t replace hand washing in food service has to do with the types of germs you’re trying to kill. Alcohol is good at killing the kinds of germs that cause colds and flu,  but the kinds of germs that make people sick in restaurants are the type that thrive in fatty, sugary environments. They are usually transmitted by the faecal-to-oral route, and hand washing is still the only proven method to kill these bacteria.

The best method is to use a hand soap and sanitiser together to help eliminate any possible chance of cross contamination.

Should You Use Gloves In The Kitchen?

The use of gloves in the kitchen is a controversial debate in the food safety industry. This can be seen by the split opinion by experts on this topic.

The trend in the industry has been to encourage the use of gloves in the kitchen for handling of ready to eat foods. This is in effort to prevent potential cross-contamination during handling.

We at Hygiene Food Safety believe that gloves can be useful. But should have limited use.

Read more about glove us in our glove use article.

5 Reasons Why Hand Washing is so Important

  1. The bacteria on your hands from cross-contamination can make people sick and cause food poisoning.
  2. You unknowingly touch your face, nose and ears. Which can cause cross-contamination
  3. Hand washing reduces your risk of various diseases.
  4. Bacteria are microscopic and can’t by seen by naked eye.
  5. Hepatitis A, an infection of the liver caused by hepatitis A virus, is spread by putting something in your mouth that is contaminated with the virus.

Hand Washing Poster

How Personal Hygiene Affects Food Safety

There are additional areas of personal hygiene to consider, other than hand washing alone.

hand washing

Personal hygiene

These include requirements that:

  1. Fingernails must be kept short and clean.
  2. Jewellery should be discouraged due to crevices where
  3. Dirt and food can collect.
  4. The correct safety uniforms are worn.
  5. Uniforms are clean and washed/changed daily
  6. Head covering is worn and covers all hair

Even if you are bald, head covering must be worn to prevent sweat build-up.

A personal hygiene / grooming checklist should be implemented to ensure that all food handlers are checked at least once per week.

When it comes to record keeping it is essential to ensure that the dates are recorded, in this case, all staff should be checked with in one week, this is therefore a weekly checklist.

How to create a personal hygiene / grooming checklist:

  1. List all staff on the checklist
  2. Include all areas to be checked as indicated above
  3. Allow a column for corrective action
  4. Always sign off the checklist

Keeping these records allows you to have a reference point to do a step-by-step check on personal hygiene requirements and a monitoring tool for staff. If we don’t use checklists, certain areas are forgotten or overlooked, which can create gaps in the food safety system.

Controls should also be put into place to ensure that the actual washing of uniforms is done correctly. Usually this means that the facility should take the responsibility of washing or should be appropriately outsourced.

Other health and safety requirements would also fall into this category, which falls outside the scope of this book, due to the various requirements in different countries. A health and safety professional should be contacted to address these concerns.

What are the food safety pillars?

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