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In most food processing or food service environments the handling of food is commonplace and often impossible to avoid. Cross-contamination by the transfer of pathogenic or food spoilage organisms can be a significant issue. Hands are one of the most common vehicles for transfer of microorganisms and can become contaminated in several ways. The lack of hand washing when required and not following a correct hand washing procedure are the most common problems observed.
The skin acts as a barrier and if damaged it will lose its ability to protect, and skin irritation will occur. The irritation can be caused by direct damage to the skin or by sensitisation to a chemical. Everyone will have different levels of resistance to hand care products; most suffering no ill effect while others may suffer skin irritation or even dermatitis. A hand care system which delivers the necessary level of hygiene whilst causing minimum skin irritation is required.
At Holchem we provide all our clients with a wealth of expertise and a comprehensive hand hygiene management system coupled with an extensive range of hand hygiene products which meet all the requirements of each individual client.
The first step in the process is to determine the standards of hand washing required via a risk assessment. This should consider where hand washing facilities are required, when hands need to be washed, what cross contamination routes there may be, training and monitoring.
A single hand wash prior to the donning of PPE, followed by a hand sanitiser on entry to the production room is sufficient in most environments, though some retailers may require a second hand wash stage after PPE donning and before entry. It should be remembered that the point at which a swab is taken only reflects that point in time. It is important that operatives are aware of the importance of effective and regular hand washing throughout the working shift.
Each business should have a hygiene policy in place covering all aspects of their provisions for hygiene management. This should include a section on personal hygiene and hand care. The policy should also make provisions for contractors, visitors and customers.
The quality of the hand care facilities provided by a business will determine the effectiveness of a site’s hand care policy. The locations of the hand care facilities must be given careful consideration so not to impede existing operations. Hand care facilities should be provided at entrances and exits to production areas, toilets and any other locations established from the planning phase. The following should then be provided:
The training and education of food handlers is one of the most key factors affecting the success of achieving the standards required. Effective training on hand washing is fundamental to ensure the safe, hygienic and consistent production of food. Operatives should be able to demonstrate knowledge of why, where and when hands should be washed and show correct hand washing procedures. Assessment of hand care training should demonstrate: the need for hand washing, when to wash hands and how to wash and dry hands.
Management play a crucial role in implementing any system and it is key that they set and communicate clearly the policy and set an example as they follow correct hand wash procedures always. A food business should have a disciplinary procedure in place for consistent non-compliance by food handlers on all matters relating to hygiene. This deterrent will contribute to the successful implementation of the hand hygiene policy.
The constant monitoring of hand care is carried out by management observation of individual washing procedures and or by employing closed circuit television.
Hand swabbing of operatives is a form of verification alongside CCTV and visual checks will identify personnel skipping or incorrectly washing their hands. Monitoring should also include the quality of hand soap, hand disinfectant, paper towels, cleaning and disinfection of facilities and the quality and temperature of water. Recording the usage of hand soaps, hand sanitisers and paper towels will also indicate if hand washing is taking place as routinely as it should be.
The entire hand care system should be reviewed if any changes are made to the changing procedures and at least yearly. Hand washing is such an important part of any food processing plant. For the policy to succeed it needs to be continuously, observed, monitored, enforced and reviewed.
Research shows that a balanced programme which encompasses washing with mild liquid soap and followed by alcohol sanitising rubs offers the optimum in hand hygiene.
Several studies have found that the use of non-antimicrobial soaps can be nearly as effective. Rotter et al (1999) determined that washing the hands for 30 seconds with a non-antimicrobial soap can achieve up to a 2.8 Log reduction, close to the typical figure of 3 Log achieved when using an antimicrobial soap. Larson et al (2003) also found that there was no difference between the use of an antimicrobial and a non-antimicrobial soap in reducing the bacterial counts on the skin. Antimicrobial soaps are, however, less liable to microbial spoilage, which may have an implication on the skin microflora.
The most important part of any hand washing procedure is the technique employed and time spent on it. The excessive washing of hands may contribute to cross-contamination due to damage done to the skin being affected by microorganisms.
Alcohol has been successfully used for hand disinfection for many years, although in recent times non-alcohol sanitisers which use a biocide as the active ingredient have become more prevalent.
Although alcohol affects our own skin resident flora, it is only a short-term effect as the levels of flora quickly return to normal levels. This action is highly desirable since it is the resident flora (usually harmless to others) that helps our skin develop its ability to withstand colonisation by transient microorganisms which may be pathogens.
Hand soaps or sanitisers containing biocides have a longer-term effect on flora which could make it more likely that the skin will be colonised by potentially pathogenic organisms. With the long-term effects of biocides on human skin largely unknown, further research is needed to relieve concerns relating to their use in hand sanitisers.
A study by the Food Hygiene Department at Campden BRI compared the use of paper towels to warm air dryers. This showed there was no significant differences between the two in the number of bacteria left on the hands. The study also showed that there was no evidence to suggest that warm air dryers contaminate the local atmosphere.
Whilst being seen as providing protection and security against cross contamination, gloves must be cleaned regularly or replaced as they can become contaminated easily.
Typically changed at each break and after touching dirty surfaces, gloves in direct contact with high risk food must be of suitable design and material. Vinyl gloves tend to be most commonly used in the food industry with latex gloves seldom seen due to the potential for allergic reaction.
Studies have shown that if hands are not washed properly before putting on gloves, microorganisms adhered to both their internal and external surfaces. The integrity of gloves is also crucial with tests from different manufacturers showing:
The development of a glove policy is an essential component of the management of personal hygiene in a food manufacturing environment.