If food service and retail employees don’t practice proper hand hygiene, they could be serving a side of norovirus with their customers’ orders. Norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food in food service settings are often linked to infected food workers, according to CDC report. These outbreaks can be prevented by educating workers about proper hand hygiene on the job and making sure they stay home when they are sick.
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Norovirus is highly contagious and can spread anywhere food is served, making people sick with vomiting and diarrhea. According to the CDC, about 20 million people get sick from norovirus each year. In addition to the risk of a norovirus outbreak, poor hand hygiene will lead to increased illness and can result in:
- Disruption cost and lost productivity through employee absence from work;
- Reduced employee efficiency through illness at work and lower employee morale; and
- Damage to a business’ reputation.
For any organization, implementing and maintaining an appropriate hand hygiene routine is a daily challenge. Employers and facility managers have a legal responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe working environment for their employees—addressing hand hygiene is a vital asset.
Common Norovirus Carriers
According to the CDC, health departments reported 1,008 norovirus outbreaks from contaminated food between 2009 and 2012, most of which occurred in food service settings, such as restaurants, catering, or banquet facilities.
The CDC also looked at foods that were commonly implicated in norovirus outbreaks. Of 324 outbreaks with a specific food item implicated, more than 90 percent were contaminated during final preparation (such as making a sandwich with raw and already cooked ingredients) and 75 percent were foods eaten raw. Leafy vegetables, fruits, and mollusks, such as oysters, were the most common single food categories implicated in these outbreaks.
Best Practices for Clean and Healthy Hands
Wash hands properly and often. Apply a small amount of hand cleanser to dry hands. Rub hands vigorously together for at least 20 seconds. Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of hands, wrists, between the fingers, and under the fingernails. Rinse well and dry hands with a clean or disposable towel. Make sure to use a clean towel to turn off the faucet.
Use the right cleanser for the job. There is an ongoing misconception that a hand cleanser’s performance is measured by its ability to clean hands aggressively. In actuality, most cleansers far surpass the user’s actual requirements. Make sure to choose a sanitation product that takes into consideration the impact on the hands, yet is still effective for the job.
Keep cleansers accessible. The location of hand cleansers can help increase handwashing compliance. Place them where they are easy to find and enforce the importance of handwashing throughout the day.
Use gloves where required or necessary. It’s not always practical to use gloves when working. Nonetheless, gloves should be used whenever possible to ensure that cross-contamination is less of a risk.
Once your team learns more about prevention, pick the best-suited hand cleanser and dispensing system. Table 1 (click on to enlarge) provides a quick reference guide to keep employees clean and compliant.
The appropriate products should be available and accessible to workers where and when they are required, such as food processing area entrances, washrooms, and handwashing stations.
Developing a good handwashing technique is imperative to ensure hands are thoroughly clean. Pay particular attention to the backs of the hands and fingertips as these spots are frequently missed. To limit sickness and absenteeism in the workplace, implement the following handwashing steps:
- Rub palm to palm;
- Rub palm over back of hand, fingers interlaced;
- Palm to palm, fingers interlaced;
- Fingers interlocked into palms;
- Rotational rubbing of thumb clasped into palm; and
- Rotational rubbing of clasped fingers into palm.
Workers should rub theirs hands together for at least 20 seconds; the length of humming the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. Skin should always be properly dried to avoid risk of chapping, particularly during the winter months. Clean towels should be available at all times—dirty towels mean exposing the skin to more dirt and the risk of infection. Ideally, single issue disposable towels should be used as communal towels can lead to contamination.
Hand Sanitizers Come in Handy
When it’s not convenient to use soap and water or when soap and water are not available, it is acceptable to use an alcohol-based broad spectrum hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. According to the CDC, hand sanitizers with an alcohol concentration greater than 60 percent are very effective at killing germs and can reduce the number of microbes on a person’s hands quickly. However, it’s important to note that hand sanitizers don’t eliminate all bacteria. Washing your hands with soap and water is more effective against specific types of germs, especially norovirus. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers used in food handling environments should be fragrance-free and ideally have an NSF E3 rating (NSF International certifies food-related products and systems, hand sanitizers fall under the NSF standard E3). Gel-based products can be sticky and leave gelling agent residues on the skin. Foam based products enjoy a higher consumer acceptance and do not leave an unpleasant or sticky residue on the skin.
Training is Key
New employees should be trained on proper handwashing techniques and frequency during orientation. Show new workers where the sinks and sanitizing stations are and remind them when to wash their hands.