Humans may well be the most dangerous pest in the food preparation and storage areas. As with the rest of the environment, we carry bacteria and viruses around on our bodies that if not controlled can get into food and cause illness. This is especially so in the case of opportunistic pathogens that may be harmless or even beneficial on us but disease causing if they get back into food and are consumed, or if they produce toxins in the food.
To prevent being the source of food borne illness or contamination, follow the following personal hygiene rules:
Always wash your hands:
- Before beginning to prepare food
- After handling rubbish
- After going to the bathroom
- After smoking
- After touching or scratching your hair or skinIn between high risk and low risk foods
- After handling cleaning or pest control chemicals
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After licking your fingers
- Whenever your hands become obviously dirty
- After handling money
When washing your hands, use warm water and lather your hands all over with soap. Ensure you vigorously rub all surfaces of your hands, fingers and wrists - back and front and in between fingers. This should take at least 10 seconds. Time yourself next time you wash your hands. Holding your fingers under a trickle of cold water for a few seconds is not washing your hands!
You also need to pay particular attention to your nails. These should be kept short and clean with no nail polish and must be scrubbed with a nailbrush when the hands are washed.
Keep your hands out of your pockets and away from your nose. Use disposable tissues rather than a handkerchief if you have a runny nose. Then wash your hands of course!
Jewellery must not be worn on the hands or wrists to facilitate proper hand washing and to prevent the jewellery becoming a source of cross contamination when gunk is transferred from one food to another via the jewellery.
If you have a flaky or wet skin condition or are wearing a wound dressing of some sort it may be advisable to wear gloves. However, these are easily abused and must be worn with care. You may feel nice and clean inside your glove but that doesn't mean that you are protecting the food from whatever you just touched. Hands must be washed before the glove is put on and either washed or the gloves changed with the same frequency as the hand washing list above.
Remember, the outside surface of the glove is no cleaner than your hand would have been if you weren't wearing the glove.
You must not prepare or serve food if you are ill with a cold or 'flu where you are dribbly, sneezy or coughing as these 'productions' are a great source of bacteria, especially Staph. aureus.
You must also not prepare or serve food if you are ill with any sort of vomiting or diarrhoea, unless it is confirmed by your doctor to be caused by a non-microbial reason (such as pregnancy or irritable bowel syndrome). If you do get ill with vomiting or diarrhoea, you should see your doctor and have a faeces sample sent away for analysis to determine which bacteria or virus is causing your illness. This will then decree how long you must wait before returning to food handling.
Many food borne microbial illnesses are notifiable. This means that the lab or your doctor will notify the local Community Health team so that they can trace the source of the illness to ensure no risk to the general public. You may be contacted by them to ensure you are following the correct procedures and staying away from work, or in a safe alternative job while you are at risk.
Freshly cleaned clothes should be worn each day. You may even need to keep a spare outfit at work if you are likely to get really dirty during the day. These clothes should be put on at work not worn from home, to ensure you don't bring dog hairs, road dust and other 'outside' contamination into the food preparation area. Don't wear fluffy clothes that could shed into food. Be sure you are comfortable so that you don't get sweaty or itchy and need to touch yourself.
The level of clothing protection depends upon the level and type of food preparation. Some places need to wear a full covering uniform, others an apron will suffice. Just make sure what you wear is right for the job. Remember you are protecting the food from you, not you from the food.
Hair is required to be "adequately restrained" when preparing or serving food to ensure it cannot be a source of contamination (even clean hair will gross out any customer). This is something that is commonly ignored in food premises and hair complaints are common. It is not just a matter of tying back long hair, short hairs fall out too. Whatever method you choose must be used thoughtfully. A trendy baseball cap sits on your head and itches, it doesn't actually restrain anything, especially with the pretty curls left hanging down the sides.
The mouth and teeth can be a good source of bacteria which may be then breathed over food or food preparation surfaces. Keep you teeth healthy and clean. Don't bite your nails or lick your fingers, don't cough or sneeze over food and don't smoke in a food area or before handling food without washing your hands.
You are required to have a first-aid kit in all food premises. If someone sustains a wound at work, ensure the wound is properly cleaned and dressed and remains covered until healed. Someone with an infected or suppurating wound on the hands or wrists should not handle food. Ensure any surface on which blood has been spilt is cleaned and sanitised with a chlorine solution. Throw away any food contaminated with human blood.
The trick with personal hygiene measures is to remember why you are doing them: to stop yourself being a source of contamination, cross-contamination or recontamination to the food you are handling.
- Wash your hands,
- Wear a clean uniform that has been put on at work
- Only taste food with a clean spoon, not your fingers
- Don't wear jewelleryKeep your body and mouth clean
- Keep your hair restrained
- Don't handle food when unwell
- Don't touch, scratch or itch yourself
- Cover wounds with a firm, waterproof dressing
- Work in an environment that doesn't make you sweaty
- Use 'hands off' methods of food service whenever possible