The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified particular days as global public health days with an aim of raising understanding of health issues and to activate support at all levels of the society. Under the theme “Seconds save lives: Clean your hands!” World Hand Hygiene Day was celebrated on May 5; this date has been set aside since 2009 as a call to action for health-care workers. Since the food industry has this same problem, it seems fitting to borrow the day and the theme. But it begs the question: Outside of COVID-19, do we really need to focus on hand hygiene?
The simple answer is yes. The complex answer is, poor personal hygiene, such as poor hand-washing practices, is in the top two causes linked to foodborne illnesses. For example, the contamination of food with Hepatitis A is most commonly caused by an infected worker.
One of the most common sights in restaurants or food service areas is handwashing signs or prompts; yet poor hand hygiene continues. To be specific, the discussion is not only about washing hands, but also about washing hands with soap. What is known based on research is that proper hand washing is one of the most effective ways to break the faecal-oral pathway. In seeking to find out some of the issues that prevent hand washing, Pragle et al (2007) conducted a research on food workers' perspectives on hand-washing behaviours and barriers that exist. The following are some of the barriers, according to food-service workers:
1. Availability of supplies and accessibility of sinks
2. Neglect of handwash station, including broken soap and towel dispensers
3. Time pressure, high volume of business and stress; overwork or understaffing
4. Lack of accountability
5. Type of food business
6. Insufficient training received; employer does not view training as a priority
7. Inadequate food handler's training; seen as a memorisation tool to gain food handler's permit
8. Attitude and approach of managers; workers are less likely to conform if they do not observe supervisors or senior workers practices the same
In addressing food safety risks, it is important to consider all related information. Meaning, the perspectives of food service workers are also important. It may be that there are some elements that were not considered which can result in a barrier. Something as simple as a broken soap dispenser may have far-reaching implications. Food business operators must have robust maintenance programmes in place to ensure critical assets such as handwash stations are maintained. This is a part of prerequisite programmes, which also includes ensuring the station is properly and adequately supplied with soap, single-use paper towel and garbage bins.
Consider your actions when handling or preparing food. What are your hand-washing practices/habits like? Are there any barriers? Proper hand washing is one of the most effective means to prevent or stop the spread of contaminants. The WHO says it best: Seconds save lives: Clean your hands!