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How hand hygiene is holding food safety back

13 October 2017

Paul Jakeway, marketing director at skin care expert Deb, looks at why effective hand hygiene is an essential part of food safety and reducing the risk of food poisoning

Hand hygiene plays a crucial role in assuring food safety in the catering sector. Yet four in ten customers are concerned about the issue of food hygiene when eating out. Added to this is a lack of awareness, which points to the fact that caterers should be doing more to improve hand hygiene compliance to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Food safety is one of the top priorities for caterers, but Food Standards Agency (FSA) research shows that 5.5 million people suffer from food poisoning in the UK each year. It is a shocking number, and even worse is the fact that the majority of these cases are thought to be caused by food prepared outside of the home.

The consequences for a catering business that causes an instance of food poisoning can be severe. There could be considerable costs, along with a complete loss of customer trust – even if no legal action is involved. To many caterers, the damage could be irreparable.

Hand hygiene is a critical element in tackling poor food safety. If employees do not wash their hands regularly, they could easily spread bacteria onto the food served to customers. They must follow hand hygiene best practice before and after contact with food, before and after breaks, and after critical moments such as using the washroom, coughing, sneezing or touching contaminated surfaces.

However, research highlights how the catering industry is struggling to maintain hand hygiene compliance and best practice.

The FSA’s largest ever UK-wide survey of workers in the catering industry identified a number of issues around food hygiene. It found that the importance of hand hygiene in food preparation was wildly undervalued, with less than half (42%) of catering managers citing hygiene as a key element of their business success. It was not surprising then to see that 39% of workers admitted to not washing their hands after visiting the toilet, while 54% said they did not always wash their hands before preparing food.

Training & education

Staff education is crucial if the catering sector is to reverse this worrying trend. Caterers should make employees fully aware of critical hand washing points, including before the preparation of food, after handling raw food and after visiting the toilet. Training on the right products and techniques to use is also vital.

This training should be an ongoing conversation with employees, rather than a one-off event. Regular staff meetings are an effective way to keep hand hygiene at the front of worker’s minds, and caterers can use materials like leaflets, posters and information boards to increase awareness and hand hygiene compliance. There are also organisations specialising in hand hygiene that catering businesses can get help from.

Skin care

However, no amount of education can prevent poor hand hygiene and encourage compliance if employers do not provide easy access to the right skin care products. Catering businesses should be looking at the critical locations around their workplace to make sure they have easy-to-use dispensers filled with the appropriate skin care products at each one.

Employers should also be implementing a proven 4-step programme for skin care that highlights the critical phases of hand hygiene: protecting hands by applying cream before work, where appropriate; using hand cleansers following contamination; sanitising to kill germs and bacteria; and restoring skin health at the end of the day with appropriate creams.

If the catering industry wants to take food safety seriously, employers have to pay close attention to hand hygiene compliance – following the effective 4-step plan to control the spread of bacteria and drastically reduce the risk of customers getting food poisoning.