Chris Wakefield, Vice President, European Marketing & Product Development, GOJO Industries-Europe Ltd explains how improving hand hygiene practice can make a huge difference to health, and highlights the factors that need to be in place to improve hand hygiene compliance in the food and drink industry.
In food preparation and service environments, where germs can be easily transmitted and the risk of foodborne illness is high, businesses must have a proactive approach to hygiene and safety. This is particularly important during the colder months, when infection rates rise as millions of people succumb to illnesses such as influenza (‘flu’), norovirus, and other common colds and viruses.
Such viruses spread easily through direct and indirect contact with others via the hands and surfaces. Did you know that these dangerous pathogens can live on surfaces for days, weeks and even months? Norovirus, for example, can live on surfaces for up to 12 days! Furthermore studies also show that fourteen people can be contaminated by touching the same object one after the other.
No establishment is immune to the risks of infection, however, there are steps businesses can take to prevent its spread and lessen the impact. One of the simplest ways to prevent the transmission of germs is to practise good hand hygiene. Hundreds of studies published over the last 20 years have proved that it can make a huge difference to health. It is therefore vital that those working in the food and drink industry, particularly kitchen and waiting staff, have access to hand washing or sanitising facilities, and that they use them diligently.
Success hinges on compliance
However, despite being simple, low-cost and highly effective, this method of infection prevention relies on compliance and behavioural change to be successful. Research consistently shows that 25% of people don’t wash their hands after using the washroom. Even when they do wash, a further 46% don’t do so for long enough for it to be effective.
There is clearly a huge need for education and awareness about the benefits of good hand hygiene practice. Businesses should ensure all staff are properly trained in hand hygiene procedures (and that they wash or sanitise their hands thoroughly and frequently), as well as in the correct procedures to keep food contact areas clean, safe and hygienic. There should also be easy customer access to adequate hand hygiene facilities.
Promoting best practice
To successfully change behaviour, a combination of approaches is required. Firstly, hand washing or sanitising facilities must be accessible and dispensers easy to use. The correct choice and positioning is crucial to influencing healthy hand hygiene behaviour. Dispensers can be wall-mounted, free-standing, push-activated or touch-free. Innovative technology also helps, and that’s why touch-free dispensers have become increasingly popular. Intuitively sensing the presence of hands, they dispense just the right amount of product every time, and the fact that they are touch-free also increases their hygiene rating.
Secondly, the formulations are key. In food preparation areas, only formulations that have been tested and passed in accordance with international food taint testing standard EN 4120:2007, should be considered. This provides assurance that they are safe for use in food handling. The high frequency with which staff may have to use soap or hygienic hand rub means that, as well as being accessible, the formulations must be gentle on the skin.
Thirdly, eye-catching signage to posters and other visual displays can be very effective as a prompt, and can help improve compliance. Good hand hygiene companies can offer sound advice on the most effective approaches, as well as provide materials, based on their knowledge and market insight. www.winter-wellness.eu offers a host of materials including awareness-raising signage which can be downloaded for free.
By ensuring that effective, easy-to-use hand hygiene products are readily available at all the ‘critical control points’ where food safety problems could arise – and reminding both staff and customers to use them – food and drink businesses can guard against hygiene risks.