According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), it is estimated that up to 5.5 million people in the UK are affected from food poisoning each year¹. It is also reported that up to 36%² of illnesses caused by foodborne bacteria can be traced to poor personal hygiene.

With hands being the main vehicle for transporting bacteria to high risk foods, food handlers are consistently implicated in these incidents. But, with the utilisation of temporary workers and cultural diversity among employees, what can be done to improve levels of hand hygiene of those operating along the entire food chain?

Midlands based hand hygiene experts, Deb Limited, advise that organisations should ensure that all employees understand the basic principles of food safety as well as their responsibility in keeping food safe as laid out in the World Health Organisation’s “Five Keys to Safer Food”.

Food handling staff should also receive additional instruction in personal hygiene and be educated about the need to adopt good hand hygiene practices.

Critical points when staff should wash their hands include after coughing, sneezing or using a tissue; changing tasks, especially when switching between working with raw meats and ready to eat or cooked foods; handling money, rubbish, tools or equipment; in fact, after engaging in any activity that contaminates the hands.

While common sense dictates that hands should be washed before handling food, studies show that 39% of staff fail to wash their hands after visiting the toilet whilst at work and 47% fail to wash their hands before preparing food³.


So, what can employers do to educate the importance of adopting good hand hygiene practices?

Employers can encourage good hand hygiene practice by providing easy-to-understand awareness materials such as posters, stickers for use in the washrooms, on floors, mirrors and doors as well as reminders on company intranets of the importance of keeping hands clean.

Phil Spark, Marketing Director at Deb advises: “Organisations can work with their washroom services suppliers to create a communications campaign to educate staff and visitors alike why they should keep their hands clean. Free downloadable posters are readily available from established suppliers to help promote good hand hygiene practices.”

Employers can also set an example, to ensure high standards of hand hygiene, by not only providing adequate hand washing facilities but through promoting the use of a fast-acting, alcohol hand sanitiser that will quickly and effectively kill germs and therefore reduce the spread of bacteria.

A hand sanitiser should compliment routine hand washing and be reapplied every 2-3 hours and certainly immediately after coughing, sneezing or touching surfaces or items likely to have been contaminated. It is particularly important to use a sanitiser prior to consuming food. Finally, organisations can provide ‘hand hygiene on the move’ by supplying a handy personal issue sanitiser.

Phil Spark concludes: “By educating employees about the need to adopt good hand hygiene practices as well as providing adequate hand washing facilities and promoting the use of a hand sanitiser, organisations could mitigate the risk of outbreaks linked to improper hand hygiene, together with the associated business costs that can threaten an organisation and consequently, help to protect it’s employees, customers and reputation.”