We clean and sanitize our plant, we have a HACCP plan, SSOPs, etc, so why the big deal on hand washing? Why implement a professional hand washing and personal hygiene program?
Because it is rated one of the top three reasons why we have foodborne illness. When we clean and sanitize our plant, we are directing our efforts to the equipment and the plant facility. But what about the people who work in the plant? The break room, the rest rooms, outdoor smoking – these can bring things inside that you do not want in your plant. It’s my belief that anyone working in a plant should be considered a food handler, whether the product is cooked, further processed, RTE, etc.
It has been determined that more than 90 percent of foodborne illness is from plant personnel who are ill. I want to point out the FDA GMP’s regarding personnel. I refer to 21 CFR Part 110.10.
1. Disease control. Concerns itself with illness, open lesions, boils, sores, bandages, etc.
2. Cleanliness. Protecting against contamination of food by wearing outer garments, thoroughly washing hands, removing jewelry washing hands and sanitizing before starting and returning to work, keeping gloves in good repair, hairnets and restraints, the list goes on. One item that needs to be really hammered home is Item C, Education and Training. The FDA has made a strong point in this CFR on this item.
3. I can speak from experience about food contamination caused by dirty hands because I became sick with a foodborne pathogen at a salad bar, and I traced it back to an employee who came into the restroom, used the facility, did not wash up after leaving, and went to work on the salad bar. I did not put this all together until the next morning when I became ill. The restaurant refused to admit that anything like that could happen. Now when I go into a restaurant, I check the rest room for soap and if I have to wait for the hot water. If only cold comes out, and not hot, that tells me there could be a problem.
The main cause of outbreaks are poor personal hygiene, poor hand washing, open sores, not correctly using gloves and – guess what – eating on the line. Not just eating anything, but eating what is being processed if it’s edible.
One of the problems is that we carry pathogens with us, especially Staphylococcus aureus. This is what I became infected with, and so do about 40 to 50 percent of the population. It is on skin, in nasal cavities, pimples, boils, and it produces a toxin. Salmonella, E.Coli 0157H7, Cryptosporidium (a parasite) and Hepatitis A (a virus) all come from a fecal source from humans and animals. All those using a restroom need to clean and sanitize their hands thoroughly prior to working on the line.
Any person with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, sore throat, jaundice or even those who have a common cold or the flu should not be allowed to work with food.
So, how do we put in place a prevention program for personal hygiene abuse?
First of all, we must all realize that we as an industry employ people coming from all over the world. They come to work in this great country, to earn a living, provide for their families, send their kids to school, and do the things my immigrant grandparents did for me. But we need to recognize that it is probable that some of these immigrants did not have and were not taught personal hygiene programs and, because of their former living environments, they have higher -developed immune systems. However, after five years in this country, their immune systems will be same as ours, and they too will become susceptible to illness.
If you will train, and re-train, and install a professional personal hygiene program, you will be on your way to a food safety/sanitation program that will be “above the best.”