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Hand Washing in Food Handling Industries

Hand Washing in Food Handling Industries

Hand washing is one of the most important hygiene requirements expected of the employees working in the food handling industries. The food business operator must ensure that all employed staff are trained in good hygiene practices and that they behave in a manner that will not contaminate food.

The human body is an excellent home for bacteria. Humans carry a number of potential food poisoning bacteria on and in our body. It is very important that food handlers have a very high standard of personal hygiene to prevent contamination.


Why do Food Handlers Need to Wash Their Hands

Bacteria on the hands have an ideal environment for growth and spreading. They have food, moisture and an ideal temperature of around 37°C; all ideal factors for bacterial growth. The role of hands in transferring pathogens to high-risk food is one of major causes of outbreaks’ of food poisoning not only in Ireland, but worldwide. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre publication ‘Preventing Foodborne Disease: A Focus on the Infected Food Handler’ provides a very insightfully report on preventing foodborne diseases with a focus on the infected food handler.

Hand washing is a crucial step in preventing food contamination by food handlers. By using proper hand washing techniques and as often as possible, harmful bacteria present on the hands of food workers are removed. Some examples of harmful bacteria are E. coliSalmonella and Staphylococcus aureus and viruses (e.g. norovirus) .


When do Food Handlers Need to Wash Their Hands

All food handling staff must wash their hands including forearms when exposed with a non-perfumed soap and:


How to Wash the Hands

Hands should be followed as follows:

The hands should be washed using designated hand wash basins only. After washing the hands must be dried using disposable paper towels. Towels are never to be shared! Alcohol and disinfectants are only effective if used on clean hands. They are not meant to be used as a method of hand disinfection – unless hands have been thoroughly washed prior using disinfectant. Taps should be turned off with either elbow or whilst holding a paper towel.

This short instructional video prepared by SafeFood demonstrates how to wash hands properly: How to wash your hands properly.


Use of Gloves

The use of disposable gloves is not a substitution for hand washing. In fact, gloves are a potential cause of food contamination as they can provide the ideal environment for multiplication of micro-organisms. Disposable gloves should only be worn for short periods and hands must be washed before and after use.

If gloves are however used regularly, a glove policy should be provided and all employees must be trained on how and when to put gloves on and how they should be used to prevent contamination. Clear instructions regarding the changing and disposal of damaged and contaminated gloves is a must.


Online Food Safety Training

Please remember – it is a legal requirement that staff who are involved in a food environment are trained and/or supervised commensurate with their work activity!

Myelearnsafety offers fully online Food Safety (HACCP) courses.

To find out more, please check our Courses page.

Alternatively, should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to let us know via email

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is an illness caused by consuming contaminated food or liquids (e.g. water). It’s not usually serious and most people get better within a few days without treatment. However, some infections spread by food are serious and can be life-threatening. In extreme cases, hospitalisation might be required. Furthermore, some illnesses caused by food poisoning might lead to other health problems, including:

For some people, these health problems can last for weeks or months after recovering from a foodborne illness. For others, they never go away.


Infections That Cause Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is usually caused by:


Food Poisoning Symptoms

Food poisoning usually occurs within one to 72 hours of eating contaminated or poisoned food. Symptoms normally last from one to seven days and include one or more of the following:


The Most at Risk

Every day thousands of people in Ireland suffer from food poisoning. Many of these will be very ill and some of them will die. Those most at risk include the very young, the elderly, persons who are already ill or recovering, and pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Most cases of food poisoning are the result of people not working properly in the kitchen, ‘taking chances’ and not paying proper attention to the delivery and storage of food. This is why training is important, so that you know what are you doing and are following a safe system when handling or preparing food at all times. That system is HACCP.


Common Causes of Food Poisoning

There are many causes of food poisoning, all of which are avoidable. Let’s look at the most common causes:

  1. Contamination of food by bacteria and viruses, due to not washing hands frequently, especially after sneezing or visiting the toilet, and in between handling raw meats and ready-to-eat food such as salads.
  2. Not heating food sufficiently to kill bacteria.
  3. Holding food: keeping it not hot enough (above 63°C) for too long a period, which allows bacteria to grow.
  4. Holding food: not cold enough. Not keeping food cold in the refrigerator, allowing bacteria to grow in a warm environment.
  5. Contaminating food, which will be not cooked, with bacteria. This is why we keep cooked and raw food separate.
  6. People carrying bacteria. This may be in the form of an infected boil or cut. Some people can carry dangerous bacteria without any sign of being ill.

Bacteria are not only living hazard. Viruses are found in shellfish and ourselves, especially living in close quarters. Other hazards include chemicals such as cleaning solutions and objects such as steel wire that can cut someone’s mouth, and our own hair which can easily fall into food and many carry bacteria. Effective instruction and training will prevent food poisoning if the good practices food handlers are thought are implemented in the workplace.


Please remember – it is a legal requirement that staff who are involved in a food environment are trained and/or supervised commensurate with their work activity!

Myelearnsafety offers fully online Food Safety (HACCP) courses.

To find out more, please check our Courses page.

Alternatively, should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to let us know via email

Did you know? Hospitality Hand Hygiene

Did you know?

Germs spread more quickly than you think. Most are passed from hand to hand. Careful hand hygiene is the most important means of defence against contagious diseases.

Hand hygiene is so important! Approximately 80% of all contagious diseases are transmitted via our hands – that figure comes from the World Health Organisation (WHO). This includes, for example, diseases like colds, flu and stomach bugs. “The germs themselves do not present a direct health risk on your hands and fingers,” explained Prof. Dr. med. Klaus-Dieter Zastrow, a specialist in hygiene and environmental medicine and Head of the REGIOMED-KLINIKEN hygiene institute in Coburg, Germany. “However, most people touch their mouth, nose and eyes regularly – putting their hands to their face up to five times an hour. This allows the germs to enter the body unimpeded via the mucous membranes.” Many studies have investigated and confirmed that hand-washing truly helps reduce the occurrence of contagious diseases. On the basis of different studies, it is estimated that thorough washing of hands with soap and water almost halves the risk of disease.

In Ireland, The Public Service Sick Leave Statistics for 2017 show the rate of sick leave at 4% and on average 8.8 working days were taken per full-time employee in the Public Service.

The overall cost of sick leave is estimated at €341.5 million for 2017.

German companies incur costs of around €130 billion a year due to employee sickness. That works out about €3,600 per person.

You can slash the risk of catching a cold virus by 50% simply by washing your hands.