Good personal hygiene practices are essential to safe food handling and the prevention of foodborne illness outbreaks. Someone can host pathogens on their clothes or skin and can make food unsafe if those pathogens are transferred from a person to the food. Becoming aware of how hygiene issues relate to food safety can help create better practices throughout the foodservice industry.
Every day actions we don’t even think about can contaminate food. Many people don’t think about it, but personal hygiene can protect the people eating the food you make from becoming sick. Scratching your scalp, running fingers through your hair, wearing a dirty uniform, or simply rubbing your ear can pose a risk to the food you prepare because a person’s hands can be the most contaminated things in the kitchen!
Foodservice workers should always be armed with solid handwashing habits and training – along with regular check-ins to reinforce the practice. Contamination can easily happen as a result of someone mindlessly touching their face, clothes, hair or exposed parts of their arms. While working in a food preparation space, there are some critical times to wash your hands including:
- Before putting on gloves and in between glove changes
- Before handling clean equipment and serving utensils
- Before handling or serving food
- After handling raw foods and working with RTE (ready-to-eat) foods
- After handling soiled dishes, equipment or utensils
- After returning to a food prep area from any other area (includes restroom)
- After taking a break, eating, drinking or smoking
- After sneezing, blowing a nose or coughing
- After touching your face, hair or exposed parts of arms
It should be noted that sanitizer and gloves are not a substitute for handwashing. Gloves ARE an important tool in food safety, but they are meant to protect food, not to keep the hands of workers clean. This means staff should always wash their hands before putting gloves on and after taking them off. They should also be changed between each activity and never washed or reused.
Handwashing is just one facet of personal hygiene. Daily showers (or baths), properly restrained hair, and clean nails all factor into basic hygiene habits that should be considered when working in foodservice. Good practices are important from the health and hygiene perspective, but also the customer service side. Many, if not most, people working in the foodservice industry come into contact with their customers. This means their personal hygiene and presentation are not only a part of safe food handling, but a part of the diners’ experience.
People working in foodservice with poor personal hygiene can impact food safety and customer perception of a business. Healthy hygiene habits can prevent foodborne illness, increase sales, and even help you feel more confident in your daily life. What is one personal hygiene habit you think you can improve this week?