By Allison Gallant
Sanitation is one of the breakthroughs of modern society: as we connected the dots between waste and disease, we learned the importance of washing our hands. In high-risk industries like health care and food, sanitation and hygiene are central to our processes and training. But it’s estimated that up to 80% of infections are transmitted by hands.
For food handlers, pathogenic bacteria and viruses – those that cause illness—are of particular concern. According to a study conducted by Queen Mary University in London, England, fecal matter, including E. coli, can be found on just over a quarter of the surface area of our hands. And where there’s E. coli, there’s probably a sanitation issue somewhere in your facility or supply chain.
Another consideration: what exactly does it mean to wash our hands? In the Queen Mary study, 91 percent of participants said they washed their hands after using the toilet. But the researchers observed levels of fecal organisms that didn’t line up with that assertion. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, recommends 15 to 20 seconds of rigorous hand washing with soap and water to kill germs effectively, but only 5 percent of people do so. It’s estimated that up to 80% of infections are transmitted by hands.
Hand hygiene systems aren’t just critical aspects of food safety. They’re also part of our overall efforts to keep workers safe and healthy. It’s estimated that health-related work losses cost U.S. employers more than $260 billion each year. And proper hand hygiene can go a long way to protecting workers from illness.
It’s often said that consumers are comforted by the sight of gloves on food handlers. But one Washington Post article by an experienced food consultant cautioned against the indiscriminate use of gloves describing situations where workers wash their hands, put on gloves, and then seamlessly move between raw meat, vegetables and other ingredients. Apparently this is not uncommon behaviour.
What’s more, hand washing is less likely to occur when gloves are worn, and the false sense of security they provide can result in more high-risk behaviours that could lead to cross-contamination.
Here are some suggestions for supporting good hand hygiene:
Sanitation and hygiene together represent one of our best defenses to preserve food safety and quality. If your business is certified to a standard recognized by Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), or you’re interested in taking this step to enhance your business, sanitation and hygiene will play a major role.
About the Author
Allison Gallant is a regular freelance writer and blogger with Global Food Safety Resource and she is also one of our most valuable and recognizable contributors.
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