IMPORTANCE OF THE FOOD HANDLER
MANAGING PERSONAL HYGIENE
In the first two chapters, we talked about foodborne illnesses and how contamination happens. In this chapter, we are going to focus on your staff and just how important their role is in providing safe food. In most operations, they will be the main deciding factor on how well you protect food safety.
As the manager, (PIC), you will probably not be involved in the usual day-to-day activities such as preparation, cooking, service, cleaning.
Your role is now to observe, manage and train your staff. The training you provide and the monitoring to ensure it is implemented will be vital in protecting food safety.
MANAGING PERSONAL HYGIENE
Let’s start this section by insulting everyone in your operation!
Probably not the best way to start this section, but it is a good way of highlighting a serious point and hopefully making you as a manager think about the important food safety aspects that relate to personal hygiene.
We, human beings, are the worst contaminators of food! Usually by cross-contamination, and usually because food handlers do not wash their hands as often as they should!
A concerning fact is that the fingertips of improperly washed hands are the most common source of food contamination by feces.
In their defense, at peak service times, a kitchen is a pretty busy environment. There is pressure to quickly get the food to service and there is pressure on serving 50, 100, 200 meals in a relatively short space of time. In addition, have they ever been shown how to wash their hands properly?
However, as the manager, (PIC), you need to be mindful of the realities of a kitchen, identify the danger points, and put in place controls to minimize the risks.
WHY IS PERSONAL HYGIENE SO IMPORTANT?
Ultimately, it’s about protecting the public by providing safe food
- It helps you comply with your legal requirements and builds DOHI confidence
- Increases your odds of passing a DOH inspection
- Reduces the hazards associated with cross-contamination and bacterial multiplication
As we mentioned at the start of this chapter, staff do not wash their hands often enough, and in a lot of cases, they have not been shown the correct procedure.
Spend some time observing how often food handlers touch food during an average day:
- How often do they switch tasks between raw and ready to eat?
- How often do they handle utensils, equipment, doors, and handles to storage such as refrigerators?
- How often do they deal with trash?
- How often do they visit the restroom?
- How often do they touch their face, rub their nose, touch their hair?
- How often do they handle their cell phone?
You will be surprised at how many times their hands come into contact with areas that are cross-contamination danger points. And if you consider how quickly bacteria can multiply, hands can be the perfect “vehicle of contamination”.
How To Wash Your Hands
As we just mentioned, our hands come into contact with much different danger, (cross-contamination), points in a typical working day. Staff wash their hands correctly, and on a regular basis will significantly reduce the chances of cross-contamination. It would be fair to say, it’s the best defense we have!
6 STEPS – HAND WASHING GUIDE
Step 1 – Rinse hands with clean hot water (ideally above 100°F)
Step 2 – Rub in liquid soap to remove dirt and germs (anti-bacterial soap if possible)
Step 3 – Work the palms, wrist, lower forearm, and back of the hands for a min of 20 seconds
Step 4 – Work the thumbs and between the fingers for a min of 20 seconds
Step 5 – Rinse the hands under clean, running, hot water
Step 6 – Dry your hands, ideally with a disposable towel or a hand dryer, and then turn off the faucet with the disposable towel
Optional Step 7 – Use a hand sanitizing solution if allowed by your authority
Typically, the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday to yourself is the time needed to wash your hands correctly.
If your nails are dirty, use a nail brush, and your authority allows it. Be aware that a dirty nail brush can harbor bacteria. Make sure nail brushes are included in your cleaning schedule.
Hand Antiseptics, (which are sometimes called Hand Sanitizing Solutions), can be an added protection as they lower the number of bacteria on your hands. However, staff must be made aware that they are not a replacement for proper handwashing. But if allowed, they are an additional good practice.
As soon as you have finished this course, get all your staff together and run through the handwashing technique we have just described. Train them, observe them, detailing the training and date in your Food Safety Management System. Remember due diligence defense.
WHEN TO WASH THEIR HANDS
We have spent a lot of time discussing hand washing as it is a major aid to reducing cross-contamination. In this section, we will highlight the major points where handwashing must happen.
When should food handlers wash their hands:
- Before entering a food preparation or service area
- Before putting on single-use gloves
- Before and after handling raw food
- Before handling high-risk food, ready to eat, and TCS foods
- After a break, eating, drinking, or smoking
- After using their cell phones or other electronic devices
- After using the restroom
- After blowing their nose, coughing, or touching any part of their skin or hair
- After handling waste food or other rubbish disposals
- After cleaning and using any cleaning or pest control chemicals
- After carrying out pest or other premises inspections
- After shaking hands or touching customer/other people
- After handling, checking or storing a delivery
- After handing any source of potential allergen
- After handling money
As you can see, there are many areas and personal habits that are cross-contamination points and staff need to understand the risks and why they need to “break the chain.”
A suggestion is to make copies of this list and place them in strategic locations in the kitchen.
Also, run through the list with your staff and explain the dangers.
And just when you thought we had finished talking about hands!!
- Be sure to keep fingernails short, clean, and well-trimmed as they can easily harbor bacteria.
- Do not wear nail polish or false fingernails. It can be difficult to see dirt under fingernails and they can chip and fall into food, creating a physical hazard.
INFECTED WOUNDS, CUTS, BOILS & SKIN INFECTIONS
This can be a slightly embarrassing area to discuss with staff. However, you must take some basic precautions to protect food safety.
All cuts, spots, and skin infections must be covered with a waterproof bandage to prevent contamination.
The bandage and coverings should be highly colored (usually blue) so they can be seen if they fall into food.
If the wound or boil is on the hand, the bandage should then be protected with a single-use glove. The glove acts as an extra layer of protection to avoid cross-contamination.
Staff must immediately tell their manager if they have lost a bandage.
Wounds – Staff Policy
All staff MUST report any cuts, weeping spots, or boils, to you before starting work.
As the manager, you must decide the level of risk to food safety and take one of the following options:
Low or No Risk – Have them cover the affected area up with a waterproof bandage and continue to work. (no/low risk)
Low or Medium Risk – Move them to a lower risk task and away from food preparation. Possibly storage, deliveries, etc.
High Risk – Stop them from working as they are a danger to food safety and insist on a doctor’s visit.
Mouth, Nose & Throat – Staff Policy
40% of adults carry Staphylococcus Aureus in their nose and throat.
As a result, staff must not be allowed to eat in the food preparation area.
In addition, as part of the cooking process, quite often they will be testing the food. Usually, sauces, stocks, soups. They must use the two-spoon method, one for tasting and the other for taking the food from the pan or dish. The spoons must be clean and put into the sink or dishwasher after each tasting.
Staff should also not handle cell phones when preparing food for customers whether in the Front of the House or Back of the House. Phones contain a lot of bacteria and viruses that can be transferred to customers.
Best Practice – Sneezing
A good training exercise is to demonstrate how to sneeze properly!
If their hands are full, they should turn away from the food and use their upper arm or crook of the elbow to prevent the spray of germs. If they do cough or sneeze into their hands they must wash their hands immediately.
SINGLE USE GLOVES
Your staff’s hands are now clean, with perfectly trimmed nails and any cuts or boils are now protected. Let’s talk about single-use gloves and their importance.
Single-use gloves are widely used in most operations. When used properly, they offer an extra, additional layer of protection in the fight against cross-contamination.
When used badly, just like your hands, they can be a dangerous “vehicle of contamination”.
As the name indicates, they are designed to carry out one task and then be thrown away.
The key points when using gloves are:
- Make sure staff wash their hands before putting on gloves and when changing to a new pair.
- Make sure they fit hands correctly, have different sizes available to suit staff needs.
- Never blow into gloves to help put them on.
- Never wash or reuse them.
When to Change Gloves
- If they rip, throw them away immediately, wash hands and replace them.
- Replace if dirty or if you think they have become contaminated.
- Replace before beginning a different task.
- Replace after handling raw meat, poultry, or seafood and before handling ready-to-eat food.
- Replace at least every four hours during continual use when working with the same product, such as prepping raw chicken.
Gloves should ALWAYS be used when handling ready-to-eat food. This is food that will undergo no more controls such as cooking, before being served.
While some regulatory authorities allow bare-hand contact, with very strict policies and procedures in place, for example when washing produce, we strongly recommend that there is NO bare-hand contact allowed with ready-to-eat foods, the risks are too high.
When used properly, single-use gloves offer increased protection in the ongoing fight to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
As a manager, monitor and encourage staff to change gloves on a regular basis and especially with the points we have just discussed. They are relatively inexpensive, so keep encouraging good practice! The more they are using, the safer the operation.
Personal Hygiene Controls
At the start of this chapter, we talked about staff being the worst contaminators of food, and throughout this chapter, we suggested ways to reduce the cross-contamination risks.
Managing your staff and their personal hygiene plays a vitally important role in food safety.
Now let’s take a look at some of the personal habits we all have and are in most cases, unconscious actions we take. However, in a food operation, these habits can cause cross-contamination issues.
As the manager, you need to make staff aware of habits they need to avoid, and you must again, monitor, remind, and train where needed.
Habits food handles should avoid are:
Picking their noses, or wiping their noses on their sleeves
Scratching their heads
Touching their hair
Coughing, sneezing, or spitting over food
Testing food with their fingers, or with a spoon that has not been washed
Blowing or breathing on glassware or cutlery to help polish
Handling food without first washing their hands
Failing to wash their hands after going to the toilet or handling rubbish
Eating, drinking, or smoking in a food area
We give you all the difficult parts to manage! As a manager, this is probably one of the most sensitive areas to discuss with staff. However, poor hygiene practices are a risk to food safety!
A daily shower before work is considered the best practice to help reduce bacterial contamination. In addition, strong aftershaves or perfumes only mask the issue and potentially cause a chemical contamination issue.
As mentioned, this can be a difficult or sensitive issue to discuss. However, as the manager, you have a duty to ensure food safety is not compromised.
Quite often the best way is to lead by example. This will help, motivate and reinforce good practice.
The main purpose of uniforms is to protect food from contamination.
There are two key points to consider when we talk about protecting food:
Outdoor Clothing – Never allow staff to wear outdoor clothing in your operation. You cannot control its condition.
How often has it been washed?
What possible contaminants could it have been exposed to while traveling to work?
What type of bacteria may already be on the clothes?
Also, a DOHI will not be impressed and will most likely mark you down for a violation.
Cleanliness of Uniforms
Uniforms have to be clean. A dirty uniform or apron will be just as hazardous to food safety as outdoor clothing. They need to be cleaned on a regular basis and you need to have spare uniforms if staff need to change in the day. Ideally, this should be added as a part of your Food Safety Management System, with a set process for removal and cleaning. Remember due diligence defense.
When we talk about uniforms, this includes:
Hats, caps, and hair/beard nets
Overalls, aprons, and chef coats uniforms
Uniforms with press studs or securely attached buttons to prevent physical contamination
Disposable aprons and other clothing
Slip-resistant shoes or boots
Staff Changing Facilities
To avoid cross-contamination risks, a staff changing area must be provided. All staff should change before entering the food preparation or service areas.
Lockers should be provided to allow staff to safely store their outdoor clothing, jewelry, phones, pens, money, etc. Encourage staff to leave everything in their locker and explain the reasons why.
Lockers should be emptied after an employee has finished their day. We recommended that you do not allow employees overnight storage in the lockers.
Hair & Head Coverings
The main purpose of head, hair, and beard coverings is to prevent hair from falling onto food, (biological and physical contamination). As the manager, you need to establish a policy, (and monitor), that head coverings must be worn in the food preparation areas.
Some jurisdictions do not require a head covering. If in doubt, check with your local DOH to confirm what hair protection they expect to see. Again, as a company, we strongly recommend that you implement a policy of head coverings when working in the food prep areas.
A great practical demonstration for training is to have a couple of members of staff rub their head or hair for a good 15 seconds over a dark piece of paper. Let them see just how much hair and skin are on the paper! It is a great way of demonstrating the dangers of not wearing a head covering.
One of the most commonly ignored rules is staff wearing aprons outside the kitchen, especially when on a break. Of even more concern is staff wearing aprons while visiting the restroom.
Aprons should always be removed and stored when leaving the prep areas, taking out the garbage, or visiting the restroom.
As the manager, we suggest that you monitor the situation and do not allow this to happen. Add it to your uniforms policy.
Jewelry harbors dirt and bacteria and is also a source of physical contamination (stones, gems, etc.). It is also a Health and Safety hazard as jewelry can become caught in machinery and equipment.
Jewelry must be removed or taped in place with food-grade, colored bandages. This is a common approach for weddings rings and stud earrings.
We recommend that your food establishment only allow plain wedding bands without stones and medical alert bracelets. All other pieces of jewelry can be a hazard.
REPORTING HEALTH ISSUES & ILLNESS
ALL staff must be aware of the correct procedures, on what, how, and when to report an illness.
The dangers caused by staff illness can be a serious threat to your operation. Staff must be aware of the risks to food safety as well as the legal implications if a foodborne illness is found to be due to a staff member who has not reported an illness.
As a manager, you must also be aware of what actions you can take.
You must prevent any staff members from entering your operation if know or suspect:
They may be a carrier of a foodborne illness
They have had vomiting or diarrhea within the last 72 hours
They are attempting to return to work without a doctor’s clearance along with clearance from the DOH. (This is for more serious cases which MUST be reported). See below point.
If an employee is found to have one of the BIG 6 (Salmonella Typhi, Nontyphoidal Salmonella, Norovirus, E. coli, Shigella, Hepatitis A) the DOH MUST also be notified immediately.
It is also important to remember that a Food Handler diagnosed with Jaundice can NOT return to work until approved by the regulatory authority.
REALITIES OF STAFF ILLNESS
Most food handler jobs are low pay with no paid sick leave. As a result, staff will attempt to work because they need the money! In addition, you may be at full service, low staffed, and under pressure to keep up with food orders.
You will find yourself in this difficult situation on many occasions. Ultimately your responsibility is to protect food safety, and the risks to the business are far greater from a foodborne illness than from slow service complaints.
Below are some downloadable forms that will be useful for your operation:
1. Employee Health Questionnaire
2. Staff Hygiene Code of Conduct
3. Staff Sickness Record