For employees in bakery retail, foodservice or food processing industries, choices made about handwashing affect not only the employee, but also other people: consumers, diners and the general public. Handwashing among food workers is crucial to prevent the spread of germs that can lead to food-borne illnesses and food poisoning. Efficient hand hygiene needs to become automatic.

According to World Health Organisation guidelines, hand washing should not be limited just to the hands; it should also include wrists. The whole area should be washed with soap and running water for a minimum of 10-15 seconds. In the healthcare and food industries hands should then be decontaminated with an alcohol-based waterless hand gel or rub for 15-30 seconds. This stage must be carried out on physically clean hands, as it may be ineffective if the hands are soiled with protein or fat.

drain the soap

Soap, if in the form of a bar, should be left on a soap rack so it has the chance to drain. It should not be allowed to sit in a pool of water as this encourages micro-organisms to grow, such as pseudomonas, an opportunistic pathogen, meaning that it exploits the break in the host defences to initiate an infection. Liquid dispensers of soap should be cleaned thoroughly every day, and, when empty, the cartridge should be discarded not refilled. Disposable towels should be used for drying hands, ideally with a non-touch dispenser. If there is not a clean, dry towel available, then air drying hands is best and communal towels should be avoided. It is important to dry hands thoroughly because, if wet, they will spread bacteria easily.

microbial caution

Caution should be taken when dealing with food with a high microbial loading, such as uncooked meats. Dangerous micro-organisms, including bacteria, viruses, mould and parasites can be transferred between surfaces, hands and other foodstuffs by cross-contamination. This happens directly through contact between hands, cutting boards, towels, clothes, utensils and work surfaces. Raw meat in particular contains harmful bacteria and it is important to keep it away from ready-to-eat foods, such as salad, cooked meats, fruit and bread.

l Bekie McCloud is EMA marketing/ technical director, Johnson Diversey