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All Hands to the Pump

hand washing food safety

The soap pump that is! Inefficient or incorrect washing of hands is one of the leading causes of food contamination and food-borne illness in the food industry. Our hands come into contact with many different items during the day and can pick up a large array of bacteria and pathogens. Even if your business decides to use gloves, it does not in any way reduce the need to wash hands. Each time you change your gloves (which should be after each different task or before handling different foods), you must wash your hands. Gloves can help with public perception that your business is practising good food safety, however without hand washing they are more or less useless in preventing food contamination.

Hand washing is easy to do, however a surprising number of people get it wrong or simply don't clean their entire hands effectively. Standard 3.2.2 - Food Safety Practices and General Requirements of the Food Standards Code (Australia and New Zealand) simply states that:

(2) A food handler must wash his or her hands in accordance with subclause (4):

(a) whenever his or her hands are likely to be a source of contamination of food; (b) immediately before working with ready-to-eat food after handling raw food; and (c) immediately after using the toilet.

(3) A food handler must, when engaging in a food handling operation that involves unprotected food or surfaces likely to come into contact with food, wash his or her hands in accordance with subclause (4):

(a) before commencing or re-commencing handling food;

(b) immediately after smoking, coughing, sneezing, using a handkerchief or disposable tissue, eating, drinking or using tobacco or similar substances; and (c) after touching his or her hair, scalp or a body opening.

Now that we know when to wash our hands, we need to focus on the how. Subclause 4 of the Standard 3.2.2 gives us some guidance:

(4) A food handler must, whenever washing his or her hands:

(a) use the hand washing facilities provided; (b) thoroughly clean his or her hands using soap or other effective means, and warm running water; and (c) thoroughly dry his or her hands on a single use towel or in another way that is not likely to transfer pathogenic micro-organisms to the hands.

The key here is to use the designated hand wash sink (do NOT use sinks used for dish-washing, food preparation, etc). If the hand wash basin is not fitted with a hands-free tap, you should use the disposable paper towels provided to turn the tap on and off.

You must wash your hands with soap under warm running water and ensure you pay attention to areas under the finger nails, around the fingers, under and around rings and bracelets and all areas of the palm. If the washing process takes less than 20 seconds, you probably aren't washing your hands effectively. As the previous blog states, DO NOT use tea towels to dry your hands - disposable paper towels or air-drying machines are the only means by which you should dry your hands.

It is important that all staff who may come into contact with food are aware of the importance of hand washing and are adequately trained as to how to wash their hands. The poster below from the Australian Institute of Food Safety provides an overview of how to wash your hands.

NQ Environmental Health Services also runs food safety training for food businesses to ensure all your staff are adequately trained or have undertaken a refresher course on food safety. Please contact us today for a quote. Mention this blog and receive 20% your training session!

hand washing poster

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