A hand with food hygiene

21 July 2016

Mike Sullivan, managing director of GOJO Industries-Europe, reveals how hand hygiene can be a valuable line of defence against the spread of infections in all food handling settings

Many of us love to go out to a restaurant for a delicious meal or even grab something tempting to eat from a less-formal establishment, such as a street food stall. In some cases, you’re strapped for time but need to eat, so you buy something from a mobile catering company near the office. Are you thinking about the hand hygiene habits of the individuals making the food you eat? Probably not, but this in fact should be one of the biggest concerns of employers who are involved in a business which produces or handles food.

Regardless of setting, the one thing that remains undisputed is the importance of storing and preparing food in a hygienic manner, including ensuring that all food handlers practise excellent hand hygiene. We are all familiar with the regular media stories of food outlets that have caused their customers to become unwell. From the smallest local café to Michelin-starred restaurants, no outlet is safe from the glare of negative publicity. 

In the UK alone, the incidence of infectious intestinal disease in the community is substantial, with around 25% of the population suffering from an episode every year – that is equivalent to 17million cases annually. Many of these foodborne illness cases are caused by cross contamination between environments.

Good hand hygiene systems are not merely nice to have ‘extras’ for food companies – they are essential to the smooth running of their entire business. Each individual link in the food production chain shares equal responsibility for the safety and hygiene of their respective end results. Just one weak link and the chain can snap, causing untold damage in terms of potential closure, tarnished reputation, loss of earnings and possible legal costs.

Companies involved in food production should have stringent processes in place, identifying the ‘critical points’ where food safety problems (or ‘hazards’) could arise, and steps in place to prevent things going wrong. By ensuring that effective, easy-to-use hand hygiene products are readily available to use at all the ‘critical points’, employers can guard against these risks. There is an added benefit of supporting employees by demonstrating the employer’s commitment to safeguarding their personal health and well-being.

Formulation and functionality matter

Giving employees access to products and systems that they enjoy using can help towards achieving a greater success rate of reducing infections and cross contamination – this plays just as important a role as product efficacy. 

Only those companies who can prove the effectiveness of their soaps or hand sanitisers against germs through independent scientific testing should be considered. Formulations that have been tested and passed in accordance with international food taint testing standard EN 4120:2007, provide assurance that they are safe for use in food handling. The best products will successfully combine this with soothing, moisturising ingredients that are gentle on the skin, meaning that employees can use the products again and again, knowing that their hands will be kept in good condition.

Education is crucial to creating a healthy hand hygiene habit amongst your workforce. Clear signage which highlights the importance of good hand hygiene and techniques of efficient handwashing is essential. Handwashing posters are available to download from the World Health Organisation’s website and these should be located in key areas near sinks or dispensers. 

The importance of encouraging and maintaining good hand hygiene has the same implications for all companies. By investing in the best hand hygiene solutions, you protect your business and demonstrate your commitment to improving the well-being of your employees, providing peace of mind to your clients and safe-guarding the end consumer.