Personal Hygiene in Food Preparation Areas: Key to Delivering a Safe Product

Friday, February 25, 2011

In today’s environment, it seems that personal appearance remains a key driver for employee identity. Especially in the younger generations, makeup, fingernails, piercings, jewelry, etc. are important to the average worker and are personalized to a great extent. Overcoming these potential hazards to the food preparation area is not an easy task, as these items tend to make the average employee feel more presentable to the customer. Working while ill is also a common but unfortunate practice due to the need for continued income and employees feeling good enough to work, but bad enough to spread their germs! Some employees also come from agricultural environments where feeding the livestock before coming to work is a daily chore. Knowing how to control these factors is important to any foodservice operation.

Good personal hygiene is a basic requirement for implementing a strong food safety program. All foodservice employees must follow Standard Operating Procedures for personal hygiene that comply with the Food Code and that are customized for their work area. Despite this fact, it is interesting to note that research conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows that poor personal hygiene practices can be seen in retail foodservice establishments, which includes elementary schools, hospitals, nursing homes and restaurants.

So, how do you best approach this subject without alienating a potential employee or making existing employees feel that their identity, personal life and presence is affected in a negative manner? This is the fun part! First, it is all about education. The WHY is what seems to make the most difference to the younger generations who put much value into their appearance. It is smart to begin talking about the importance of personal hygiene as soon as a potential employee is interviewed and subsequently hired. Explain that the requirements are a part of the job that they are applying for and that as a foodservice worker, they must pay close attention to personal hygiene. Policies on personal hygiene should be reviewed with employees and posted as reminders.

Brochures with photos are useful as these can provide actual pictures of DOs and DON’Ts. Be creative and take actual photos of employees working for your company and in environments to which the staff members can relate. Be colorful and be sure to get smiles from your models so that they emulate a positive attitude about this important subject.

More importantly, the employees need to understand the great privilege it is to feed families. If this is the focus, it seems to be less about appearance and more about delivering a safe and fresh product to the customer. If you speak to average customers, it is very interesting to note that they view a safe, clean department as one that has employees working with visible hairnets, gloves and no fancy jewelry that could end up in their food. They are not looking for beauty or a celebrity-type appearance! They are concentrating on providing a good meal to their families and trust you to deliver.

Provide your employees with options for proper hairnets, beard nets and gloves so that they are easy to order and easy to access. Sometimes too many options can be a deterrent to compliance as the choices can get confusing and cause negligence.

Some key communication points to an employee working in a food preparation area are the following:

• Workers who have a cold, the flu or another communicable illness should inform their supervisor and not handle food.
• Report to work in good health, clean and dressed in clean attire.
• Change apron when it becomes soiled.
• Wash hands properly, frequently and at the appropriate times.
• Keep fingernails trimmed, filed and maintained.
• Avoid wearing artificial fingernails or fingernail polish.
• Wear single-use gloves if artificial fingernails or fingernail polish are worn.
• Do not wear any jewelry except for a plain ring with no stones, such as a wedding band.
• Treat and bandage wounds and sores immediately. When hands are bandaged, wear single-use gloves to cover the bandage.
• Cover any lesion containing pus with a bandage. If the lesion is on a hand or wrist, cover with an impermeable cover, such as a finger cot or stall, and a single-use glove.
• Keep clean by bathing daily, using deodorant and washing hair regularly.
• Keep hair under control by wearing a hair restraint.
• Eat, drink, use tobacco or chew gum only in designated break areas where food or food-contact surfaces may not become contaminated.
• Wear clean clothing/uniform and/or apron.
• Wear suitable and effective hair restraints while in the kitchen.
• Avoid wearing jewelry, which can harbor bacteria and cause a physical hazard if parts fall into the food. Jewelry can also pose a personal safety hazard if it is caught in the equipment.
• Keep fingernails clean, unpolished and trimmed short.
• Wear a bandage and plastic gloves if you have open cuts or sores. In some cases, employees should perform other non-food-related tasks until the wound heals.
• Do not chew gum while on duty.
• Do not smoke cigarettes while performing any aspect of food preparation.
• Avoid unguarded coughing or sneezing. Wash hands after coughing or sneezing.
• Wash hands thoroughly
• before starting work
• during food preparation as often as necessary to prevent cross-contamination when changing tasks and when changing from handling raw foods to cooked foods
• after coughing; sneezing; using a handkerchief or tissue; eating; drinking; smoking; handling raw meats, poultry and fish and garbage; sweeping; picking up items from the floor
• after using chemicals and cleaners,
• after using the toilet, handling soiled equipment and utensils
• and after switching between raw foods and ready-to-eat foods

Hand Washing Guidelines
• Use water as hot as can be comfortably tolerated.
• Moisten hands and add soap. Lather to the elbow if possible. • Scrub thoroughly.
• Wash all surfaces, including backs of hands, wrists, between fingers and under fingernails.
• Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds.
• Rinse thoroughly under running water.
• Dry hands thoroughly with a paper towel or hot air dryer.
• Don’t touch anything that will re-contaminate your hands. Use a paper towel to turn off the water faucet and open the restroom door if necessary.

Following such good personal hygiene procedures will help to ensure a strong food safety program in any foodservice organization. All it takes is communication! Education, creativity and pride in one’s job are key aspects to achieving this important goal.

Food Safety Magazine can give you more Information.