Ensuring thorough and properly-practiced hand hygiene is a vital aspect of the food industry. The consequences of improper hand cleanliness can be severe; both from a financial standpoint and for the reputation of food processing and production companies. One employee with contaminated hands could spread harmful pathogens across a facility and to food in preparation areas.
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In many cases food safety relies heavily on employees adopting a responsible and proactive attitude to hand hygiene and maintaining a rigorous hand hygiene regime. Facilities where food is handled at any point on the production line will undoubtedly be aware of the risks of improper hand hygiene, with many installing wash stations and educating employees of the risks associated with the spread of harmful bacteria. The major issue with depending on employees to ensure they keep their hands clean is that this approach places a great deal of faith in workers knowing how to clean their hands to a sufficient standard. If workers enter the production line after the leaving the restroom without washing their hands or without washing them properly, they are putting the entire production process at risk of contamination. Despite the probability that workers in food production and processing facilities are more aware than the general population of the risks of improper hand hygiene and the importance of thorough handwashing, the statistics regarding the general public make for worrying reading.
A report released by Initial Washroom Hygiene to coincide with Global Handwashing Day in October last year found that one in four people in Britain admitted not washing their hands after visiting the restroom. Another U.K. study showed that over 10 percent of people don’t wash their hands, and of those who do wash, 95 percent fail to do so properly; with only two out of three people actually using soap. Another damning report published in the U.K.’s The Sunday Times by Val Curtis, PhD, director of the Hygiene Centre at the University of London, showed that, averaged out, more than one in four Britons had faecal matter on their hands.
In the U.S. the picture is alarmingly similar. A hygiene report from Michigan State University found that 33 percent of people didn’t use soap when washing their hands, while 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all. The CDC recommends at least 15 seconds of vigorous handwashing with proper soup to successfully kill germs, yet the Michigan study reported that in its study the typical amount of time spent washing hands was barely six seconds.
While proactive handwashing steps, such as installing wash stations and technological reminders to wash hands at regular intervals, are useful in tackling hand hygiene ignorance, additional interventions can prove to be very beneficial. Hand sanitizer dispensers are a worthwhile addition to handwashing and as a protective barrier should handwashing not take place.
Yet hand sanitizer dispensers are associated with similar drawbacks to handwashing initiatives, being that their use is often merely optional. When use of the aforementioned hygiene stations and wallbased gel dispensers is optional and down to the individual worker, hand hygiene can never be 100 percent ensured.
Several food facilities are turning towards hand hygiene compliance technology; installing products that ensure hand hygiene practice, rather than merely encourage it. This is because, while useful when used, products such as wall-based gel dispensers do not guarantee use by every passerby.
While staff may be heavily encouraged to use wall dispensers and even penalized if found not to be using them, their installation on walls means they are not enforcing use on every occasion.