Food processors and food retail establishments can invest in low-cost employee hygiene technology and deal more aggressively with hygiene solutions such as handwashing, clean hair, clean uniforms, produce sanitizing, proper footwear and effective glove use.
Remote video auditing (RVA) technology from Arrowsight (Mount Kisco, N.Y.) is used by processors and food service establishments to makes sure employees wash their hands before leaving the lavatory.
Unfortunately, this important hygiene step is often disregarded, paving the way for foodborne illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food poisoning kills about 5,000 people a year in the U.S., sickens 76 million and sends 375,000 to the hospital.
When it comes to preventing and controlling the spread of germs in food processing operations, it’s hard to overstate the importance of implementing and enforcing proper employee hand washing.
The food industry has made tremendous strides with employee hygiene and these accomplishments have compelled many companies to improve practices. The biggest indicator of this, of course, is the almost universal industry adoption of HACCP, the food safety protocol used at all stages of food production and preparation. Another positive sign is that the vast majority of food processing employees on the front lines want to do things the right way.
Despite these steps, there is still much to be done. This is especially true in light of the recent E. coli outbreaks at well-known fast-food restaurants. One has to look no further than the produce industry in California – which lost more than $100 million – to see how a single incident can cost a restaurant chain millions of dollars and harm a well-established brand overnight. For example, a recent outbreak sickened 71 people and sent 53 to hospitals. Another incident resulted in 81 people becoming ill, with 26 hospitalized. The causes: Contaminated lettuce and bad spinach.
Along with bird, rodents and insects, there are employee-related sources of contamination, including hands, coughing, sneezing and hair. All can result in harmful microorganisms contaminating raw materials, growing during processing and even surviving washing and heat. There are also risks of contamination associated with uniforms and garments.
Take something as simple as hand washing. The vast majority of employees just stick their hands under the water for a few seconds. But to properly clean hands, employees should wash 20 seconds with cold water, 20 seconds with warm water and 20 seconds with soap, then rinse.
That’s where RVA comes into the picture.
A hand disinfection unit is installed outside the lavatory. Every time the lavatory door opens, a camera and digital video recorder are automatically activated to monitor employees’ use of the hand disinfection unit. By remotely viewing and reporting hand disinfection data back to management daily and weekly, Arrowsight’s auditors have helped improve compliance from a reported 35 percent to more than 90 percent compliance.