How good personal hygiene in a food retail environment can reduce microbial, chemical, physical, and allergenic contamination.
The Importance of Personal Hygiene
Whilst it may seem little more than common sense, especially to those who have worked in the food industry previously, we should never take personal hygiene standards for granted. It is vital for those working in or aiming to work within, any food-related industry to develop a good understanding of the importance of personal hygiene. Methods to maintain and, where necessary, improve personal hygiene, as well as the overall hygiene standard of the work area, are often far more cost-effective than the consequences of failing to do so.
Simple things like the wearing of clean, suitable clothing or uniforms, thorough washing of hands, wearing of hairnets or hats and gloves where appropriate should not be understated, especially in our post-Covid19 world.
The reasons why good hygiene in food preparation, production, and retail spaces are numerous but are also most obvious.
Unsafe Food or Drink:
If your food or drink is not fit to eat or drink, you cannot eat or drink. You wouldn’t drink water from a dirty pond or stream if you had a fresh bottle in your bag, would you? Every day, hundreds of thousands of people are made ill by what they consume; in many cases, this is because they have little option other than to starve, but in others, it’s because they are unaware that their food or drink is contaminated.
You can’t always tell…
When your food or drink is contaminated, it may not always be immediately obvious. If your food has actually gone off or sour, you can often see or smell it in the end, but not right away. This is why foodstuffs sold in the UK carry a use-by date.
Rarely, if ever, can you tell by sight, smell, or taste alone in the case it’s contaminated by an external source.
Potentially severe effects;
Food poisoning is often thought of as mild, however, its effects can range from nausea and weaknesses to gastroenteritis, fever, and even death!
Multiple sources of Contamination;
Whilst bacteria are the most common sources of illness from poorly prepared or unhygienic foods, viruses and even parasites can spread from food, especially due to low hygiene standards and cross-contamination. These can be particularly dangerous to those in vulnerable groups; The old, the young, or expectant mothers for example.
Keeping ourselves healthy;
Food and drink are vital to keeping us and those we care about fit and well, but contaminated food and drink can have the opposite effect, making us ill or worse.
Loss of Earnings;
Food is an expense to most of us in itself, but contaminated or poorly prepared food can lead to loss of earnings through time off work ill or having to care for someone who is or incurring medical charges.
But What Does it Mean for us?
For our business, this could have far-reaching effects. Let’s imagine we visit a local cafe for the first time. When we walk in, the floor is notably dirty, and our server is leaned upon a messy counter with his hands shoved down the front of his trousers… he then proceeds to pick his nose whilst serving us…. Would you go back? I know I wouldn’t, and if I had to I would not want to be served by the same person.
The effects of this can be broken down into three categories.
Would any of us want to think we were responsible for making a friend, family member, or customer potentially seriously ill?
Businesses providing food often rely on local and repeat trade. In our example above, not only would I not return, but I would likely advise friends and family about it too – word of mouth is a powerful advertising force for good businesses we rate highly but can also have the opposite effect if we are talking about a negative experience. And that’s before we start to consider…
Let’s imagine our fictional cafe above finds itself at the center of an inspection after a food poisoning outbreak. The potential consequences of such an inspection vary wildly based upon the findings but could range from temporary closure during the investigation and improvement orders, to hefty fines further multiplying the business’s losses.
Closures are rare but where there have been repeating offenses, they do happen.
So, What can we do About it?
Fortunately, as we already mentioned, prevention is much more cost-effective than having to deal with the eventual, often hefty price, of poor personal hygiene, or food hygiene in general. Simple processes and equipment can be all that’s needed to assure your business is as safe as it reasonably can be,
Follow simple rules;
Implement a simple and straightforward staff hygiene policy and assure everyone sticks to it; it’s essential managers do as well as not only could they contaminate the food themselves, they lead the other staff by their example.
General Personal Hygiene
Staff will attend clean and work wearing clean and suitable clothing. Where necessary, uniforms should be provided to eliminate discussion around what is suitable and appropriate.
Wash hands thoroughly whenever we enter the work area, be that initially, returning from a break or whenever a task takes us beyond our usual workspace, and definitely after going to the toilet. Hands should be washed in warm, soapy water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
Fixing the shop:
Remember the problems in the shop were –
- The person stocking the shelves looks unkempt with a dirty t-shirt, its
has brown stains all over it.
- There are flies all over the shop and you notice a rat trap wedged next
to the drinks cabinet.
- The cashier has dirty hands with long nails
- The sandwiches have different use-by dates on them some at least a
- There is a cleaning bucket but the water has a visible film on it.
The person stocking the shelves looks unkempt with a dirty t-shirt, it has brown stains all over it.
The easy solution would be for the store to have a uniform policy and an appearance policy. If all staff had to go to work to the same standards, the appearance and hygiene would equally rise.
There are flies all over the shop and you notice a rat trap wedged next
to drinks cabinet
One easy solution would be to ensure a good waste management process and stock management. Pest control measures need to be discrete. The key is to ensure areas are regularly cleaned and any wasted or past food is discarded immediately
The cashier has dirty hands with long nails
In the post-Covid 19 worlds, a huge focus is been put on handwashing sanitizing.
The best way to clean hands is simply to wash your hands in warm soapy
water for 20 seconds. Using alcohol gel is second best and should only use when you can not wash your hands.
Most businesses that deal with food have strict rules about nails and extension. This is normally that you should not have them. They are the perfect spot for germs to live.
The sandwiches have different use-by dates on them some at least a month old.
It is a legal requirement for shops not to sell any goods past their use-by date. Failure to control stock could result in serious legal consequences.
Some goods have a best before date, these are advisory dates from the manufacturer of when the product will be in its best condition, it is important to not sell products past this date.
Use by dates, on the other hand, is a safety feature, after this date the product might no longer be safe to eat.
There is a cleaning bucket but the water has a visible film on it.
Any cleaning buckets need to be thrown away and replaced after each use. The clean water would need to be hot soapy water using a detergent cleaner.