After speaking on how management can prevent foodborne illnesses, let’s transition to an employee’s responsibility. Food employees share the responsibility with management for preventing foodborne illness and are required to know the causes and prevention of these illnesses. They need to immediately report symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, sore throat with fever, diagnosis or exposure of illness caused by a “Big 5” pathogen, or an exposed infected wound or cut on the hands or arms to their manager. Food employees can work with a non-infectious condition as long as they can provide medical documentation indicating that the symptoms are from a non-infectious condition. Some non-infectious conditions include Crohn’s disease (an ongoing disorder that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal system), irritable bowel syndrome, some liver diseases, and symptoms commonly experienced during stages of pregnancy. Employees can help prevent foodborne illness by avoiding work when ill, not touching ready-to-eat food with bare hands, and washing hands frequently, especially whenever they are soiled or have touched anything that has contaminated them.
Along with foodborne illnesses, allergens can be spread without proper personal hygiene and handwashing. For example, if an employee has peanut residue on his hands while serving a customer with a peanut allergy, it can have detrimental effects. All employees must wash their hands properly before entering the workplace from a break.
Once the management and employees know what to do in these situations, it is a good idea to see what services are out there to better improve food safety programs. The first step should be to look into available training and certifications. An example of a beneficial program for retail and restaurants is the ServSafe Food Handler Program, which is broken into sections. The five sections are Basic Food Safety, Personal Hygiene, Cross-Contamination and Allergens, Time and Temperature, and Cleaning and Sanitation. You must complete these sections before the assessment is available. There is an optional Job Specific section that your manager may want you to complete.
After the programs and training are in place, it can be beneficial for a third-party company to come out for an inspection. Food safety auditing companies, like ASI Food Safety, offer specific third-party audits that check your current programs and practices. During an independent audit, ASI will look at the facility’s food safety practices, employee practices, programs, training, maintenance, and pest control. ASI will also ensure that associates wash hands, fingernails, and arms with liquid hand soap, followed by an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after a break or lunch. This will mitigate the risk of spreading foodborne illnesses and allergens.
Programs and training must be in place to improve personal hygiene, which include knowledge of foodborne illnesses, employee’s responsibility, management responsibility, and third-party services that are offered. Improper personal hygiene can carry weight on your establishment if an outbreak is linked back to your product. Employees should be educated on the importance of personal hygiene to mitigate the risk of foodborne illnesses and allergens. Remember, one negative online review or a pathogen outbreak linked to your establishment can go a long way in today’s world.
Wood is corporate account manager for ASI Food Safety. Reach him at AWood@asifood.com.