Fact Sheet FS1 Section 5 (Personal Hygiene for Food Handlers)

Fact Sheet 5a: Personal Hygiene for Food Handlers

Everyone who handles food must understand and practice good personal hygiene.

Staff who handle food should use the following personal hygiene practices:

  • bathe or shower daily
  • keep fingernails trimmed, clean and free from nail polish
  • avoid touching nose, mouth, hair and skin during food preparation
  • prevent coughing, spitting or sneezing directly onto any food
  • tie back long hair and wear head gear (such as hats and disposable hair nets) to prevent hair getting into food
  • use disposable tissues to blow their nose and wash hands after each time
  • wear minimum jewellery (a plain wedding band is acceptable).

Staff who handle food should use the following work practices:

  • do not wear uniforms outside the food area
  • wear suitable protective clothing while preparing and handling food
  • use disposable gloves appropriately
  • do not change clothes or eat or drink in food preparation areas
  • cover cuts or sores with a waterproof, bright (preferably blue) band-aid and a glove.
  • inform visitors of personal hygiene rules
  • ensure personal hygiene rules are observed at all times while in a food preparation area.

Staff should wash their hands frequently, including when they have been:

  • to the toilet
  • handling any food that might potentially contaminate other food products (including raw ingredients and allergens)
  • eating or drinking
  • smoking, licking fingers, biting nails, touching pimples or sores
  • coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief or disposable tissue
  • disposing of/or handling waste
  • handling animals
  • handling anything else other than food (e.g. money, cleaning cloths, cleaning equipment)
  • away from the workplace (starting a shift or returning from a break).

People suffering from a food-borne illness must not handle food, as there is a possibility of contamination.

Illnesses that require food handlers to be excluded from working with food include:

Typhoid, Cholera, Hepatitis A and E, Tuberculosis and Gastroenteritis.

If food handlers have symptoms of diarrhoea, vomiting, sore throat or fever they should not work with food.

A food handler who has been excluded from handling food should have a medical certificate from the doctor to say when they are fit to return to work. 

Our hands can be a repository of nasty bacteria which can be of harm - if not to self than to others. 

Many routes of contamination involve the hands. 

Contamination of the hand occurs from:

  • Fecal matter
  • Toilet seats
  • Water taps
  • Towels
  • Raw foods
  • Animals
  • Coins

Unwittingly bacteria can cross-contaminate other objects or foods and be of risk to other people.

It has been known for a long time that hand washing is one of the most important ways of controlling the spread of infections, such as food poisoning and respiratory disease.

In Scotland there was a drop of 18% (17,000 cases less) of recorded food poisoning cases, four years following the start of the campaign on hand washing in 2001. In addition 9 out of 10 people always wash their hands before preparing food (an increase of 11%). 

Hand washing should be done in the following manner:

  1. Wet hands with warm water.
  2. Apply soap and lather well.
  3. Rub hands vigorously for 20 seconds, scrub both sides of the hands, around the thumbs, between the fingers and around and under each nail.
  4. Rinse with clean water, dry well - preferably with disposable paper towels.

Remember that wet hands carry 1,000 times more germs then dry hands and bugs can survive for up to three hours on hands!

Bar soaps can be used and should be kept in a self-draining holder that is cleaned regularly. If left lying in a pool of water this may encourage bacterial growth, therefore use liquid soaps which allow less cross-contamination.

Hands should be washed regularly throughout the day especially in the following circumstances:

  • Before preparing food: eating, caring for the sick and changing dressings, starting work if you are a food handler or a health professional and putting in contact lenses.
  • Between: handling raw foods such as meats, fish, poultry and eggs and touching any other food or kitchen utensils.
  • After preparing food: touching the hair or other body parts, cleaning or touching animals, handling garbage, changing nappies, caring for the sick, coughing or sneezing, gardening (even if you wear gloves), going to the toilet (the number of bacteria on the hands doubles after making use of the toilet!).

Washing our hands is something that we do not always do, perhaps because our hands do not look dirty, we do not have time, or we do not believe it makes any difference. Therefore stop and think! 

The message is simple. Just wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and warm water and dry well and you and your family are more likely to stay healthy. Hand washing does make a difference!!

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