Staphylococcus aureus is caused by food products touched by employee hands or being sneezed upon. Thirty to 50 percent of adults carry this in their nose and 20 to 35 percent carry this in their skin. All employees must avoid uncontrolled, uncovered coughing or sneezing.
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The best way to prevent the spread of viruses to food is to ensure that hands are washed and that they are clean and protected when handling food. Anytime a human hand touches something, there is a risk of contamination with harmful microorganisms or chemicals.
Employees must wash and sanitize their hands thoroughly in a hand-washing facility before starting work, especially if the employee has direct contact with food. The hands should also be washed after each absence from the work area, after visiting the restrooms, after eating, drinking, smoking, chewing gum, chewing tobacco, coughing, using a handkerchief or tissue and any other times when hands have become soiled or contaminated.
Consumption of food, drink, smoking or tobacco use is permitted only in authorized areas. All of these actions would generate saliva, which could contaminate the food. Additionally, employees should never spit in the building. Lunches should be stored in designated areas and refrigerators emptied weekly. No food should be permitted in employee lockers or at work areas and no objects such as toothpicks, matchsticks or similar objects are allowed in the mouth while on the job.
The hand-washing facility should have liquid soap, cold and hot water that is 100° F and able to run for at least 20 seconds at that temperature. The employee must scrub the surface of their hands and arms vigorously for 10 to 15 seconds. The friction itself can remove many microorganisms. They should scrub the areas between the fingers and under the nails and then rinse the hands thoroughly. Hands should be dried with paper towels or warm air dryers. Adequate waste containers should be supplied for used towels.
Hands and fingernails must be kept clean. Fingernails should be short and absent of fingernail polish or false fingernails. Cuts or burns on the food worker’s hands should be thoroughly bandaged, and covered with clean gloves. The use of gloves often creates a false sense of security but does not eliminate the need for hand washing and when necessary, sanitizing. Improperly used gloves may become a vehicle for spreading pathogens. Non-disposable gloves should be washed and sanitized before starting work and as needed. Disposable gloves should be changed whenever contamination is a possibility, such as taking out the trash, handling cleaning chemicals, handling any animals, or picking up dropped items. Under no circumstances should a live or dead rodent be touched. Hands must be washed before putting on this new pair of disposable or non-disposable gloves.
Hand or glove dips may also be used, but only after hand washing. Sanitizers are designed for this purpose and should be monitored frequently to ensure proper concentration is maintained. These dips are not a substitute for proper hand washing.
Management should serve as role models for good work habits and acceptable hygienic practices. They should continually emphasize how important it is. Policies should reassure the employees that they will not lose their jobs if they report an illness or a communicable disease. Once employees understand what is expected of them, effective supervision of employee practices should be used to ensure that employees follow proper procedures. Training should be conducted annually and reviewed whenever incorrect practices are observed.
John Lucey of ASI Food Safety Consultants (St. Louis, Mo.) can be reached at 800-477-0778.