The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines infection control as a practice aimed at preventing and containing hospital acquired infections (HAI). With infectious disease outbreaks on the rise and their subsequent impact on the supply chain via suspended imports and exports, it’s important for food safety professionals around the world to be mindful of basic infection control.
Infection control does not need to be limited to the health care sector, which primarily focuses on high-risk patient groups. In fact, food industry professionals should adopt a practical approach from farm to fork (or from petri dish to plate), especially because food handlers can be carriers of disease-causing pathogens.
Here are some best practices to incorporate infection control into your food safety management plans.
Awareness Through Education
A great starting point is to educate your employees on the measures they need to adopt to prevent the transmission of food-borne pathogens and illnesses. Creating an awareness of these steps through team meetings, training sessions, or even on-the-job learning will help facilitate the exchange of timely updates pertaining to infection control. For example, an implementation of a sharps disposal program in the workplace can be coupled with an awareness session on blood-borne pathogens.
Test Your Emergency Response System
Run a mock emergency response to help your team identify their strengths and any opportunities for improvement. This also keeps the team prepared for potential blind spots, such as members of the team who might unreachable or systems failures due to a power failure. The speed and accuracy of food recalls may be tested in parallel as well.
Practice the Fit-To-Work Policy
Contrary to popular belief, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) does not prevent restaurant managers and supervisors from asking staff about foodborne illness and/or symptoms. According to a special report published by the CDC, “89% of the interviewed employees reported that their manager was not involved in their recent decision to work while sick. Many of these employees (37%) also said that their managers were not aware of their illness symptoms.”
While the data strongly indicates that the number of food handlers working on food premises while ill is increasing in the United States, it doesn’t explain the “why” behind that behavior. Limited access to affordable health care and working for minimum wage (in many instances) can make it harder for a food handler to willingly report an illness or call in sick. There is an underlying organizational cultural element that needs to be addressed before expecting employees to follow the fit-to-work policy across the board.
Reinforcing good personal hygiene practices along with basic infection control practices such as the ones highlighted above can help prevent and contain the spread of food-borne diseases and pathogens.
What are some infection control best practices you have observed or that you follow at your workplace? Share them in the comments below!