Handwashing can become an absentminded task, but it has a huge impact on hygiene and food safety. Hands are the main source of cross contamination issues in the food industry, with thousands of foodborne illness outbreaks happening every year. In the food industry people tend to forget the impact of personal hygiene and the importance of handwashing because the effects are indirect and not easily measurable.
There have been many attempts to raise personal hygiene awareness and stress the importance of handwashing—from signage and automated handwashers to entire installations to ensure that personnel cannot skip the handwashing step before entering processing areas.
But, do people truly know and understand how they should wash their hands effectively? There are some simple steps that need to be followed:
- Wet hands with warm running water. The temperature needs to be hot but comfortable, around 120°F (40°C).
- Use an appropriate amount of soap to cover both hands. About three to five ml antiseptic compound, or the amount recommended by the manufacturer, is normally sufficient.
- Wash hands thoroughly for 20-30 seconds, paying attention to areas between fingers and fingernails.
- Rinse thoroughly so that no soap residue remains on the hands.
- Dry using single-use towels, hot-air hand dryers, or air-blast devices.
- Apply sanitizer according to manufacturer directions, making sure that hands are rubbed until they are dry and sanitizer has been thoroughly dispersed.
In some plants alcohol-based sanitizers are used as a substitute for handwashing. Sometimes workers prefer this method, especially when time is limited or when they are required to wash their hands often. However, this practice is only acceptable for sanitizing otherwise clean hands. For example, if a food handler has previously washed his/her hands but has touched other exposed body parts in between, that person needs to sanitize because he/she touched their forehead or nose.
Soiled hands cannot be cleaned or disinfected properly by just using an alcohol-based sanitizer. When a person’s hands are soiled with proteinaceous or fatty materials, no matter whether that soil is visible or not, it has been proven that the efficacy of an alcohol-based sanitizer is generally decreased and, thus, the use of an alcohol-based sanitizer alone would be insufficient.
Gloves are also widely used by food handlers in food processing plants; however, glove usage has been linked to relaxed handwashing practices. People who wear gloves tend to wash their hands less frequently, not spend the necessary amount of time, or not follow all steps to clean their hands efficiently.
In many cases, gloves are also not changed as often as is needed. Some people will even wash their hands while wearing their gloves. All these practices should be avoided at all times.
Seven Steps to Clean.
Make sure your practices are efficient, with these seven easy steps:
- Create a handwashing procedure to help personnel comply.
- Train workers according to your procedure. This training should emphasize the importance of hygiene and handwashing for food safety and demonstrate proper handwashing techniques.
- Conduct a handwashing exercise during training activities. Have employees demonstrate the proper steps of handwashing and repeat as a group. Make sure all steps of the procedure are followed.
- Install barriers at entries to food production areas that force employees to travel by the sink prior to walking into production.
- Provide an adequate number of handwashing stations at production entry points and also in production areas, maintenance workshops, and support areas.
- Ensure handwashing stations are dedicated and not used for other activities such as washing equipment and utensils.
- Ensure that all handwashing stations are clean and properly stocked, and that warm water is readily available.
The importance of handwashing cannot be stressed enough. Its impact on killing germs and bacteria is invaluable. It is only after efficient practices have been incorporated into the plant culture and everyday norm, that this task can be considered effective.
The author is Global Innovation Manager, AIB International.