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Hygiene can be defined as all the activities performed for the preservation of health. There are several aspects of hygiene, and may include but not limited to personal hygiene, food hygiene, kitchen hygiene, toilet hygiene, production hall hygiene, medical facility hygiene etc. Irrespective of the category of hygiene, the purpose is to prevent illness. Whilst observing hygiene at home is very important to your health, practicing personal hygiene in the environment where there is mass production of food is even more important. In production halls and kitchens, personal hygiene, kitchen hygiene, fridge or cold store hygiene is imperative.

The Need for Personal Hygiene

There are several factors that cause diseases, but the majority of diseases are caused by pathogens. Pathogens related to food can be found in several places including raw materials, water used for cooking, the utensils and equipment used for cooking including knives, cutting boards and surfaces on which food items are placed. Other sources of contamination could be fridges and cold rooms. Basically human intervention is needed to get all the items and places mentioned above in hygienic mode in order to prevent the spread of pathogens. This is where people involved in maintaining good hygiene in places of work such as food joints, restaurants and production halls must themselves be hygienic in order to avoid cross-contamination. It is the goal of ensuring food safety that brings good personal hygiene into sharp focus. Poor personal hygiene can bring its wake; very serious contamination issues the result of which could be fatal or near fatal.

Poor Personal Hygiene Practices

The sources of contamination from the human body can include, sweat, boils, false nails, make up, clothing, aprons, hair and jewellery. Apart from these, there are a lot of practices that can introduce pathogens into the food or food environment. Some of these practices include, sneezing and coughing on food or in the food or in the food environment. There are instances where employees with uncovered boils are seen preparing or serving food. Smoking in the food environment is one means of contaminating food and surfaces. The act of taking one’s fingers to the lips and back is one sure way of contaminating food with saliva. Many food operators and manufacturers do not insist on the covering of hair whilst working. It is therefore not surprising to see strands of hair in food sometimes. It is not uncommon to pull strands of hair from your mouth when you are busily working on your food. There have been incidents of catching earrings in your mouth, because some people are reluctant to remove their jewellery in the production environment or when cooking.

The most common practice that contaminates food and the food environment is talking and singing whilst cooking. This action results in copious amounts of saliva being dosed into the food and surfaces around the food. Aprons used for cooking could be a source of contamination too. It is important for manufacturers and restaurant operators to provide at least five working cloths for employees for a five-day production cycle. If the company works seven days in a week, each employee should have at least 7 work clothes. If the clothing or apron gets soiled especially with a highly contaminated product in the course of work, it must be changed immediately. I have seen too many workers in food factories and restaurants wearing visibly soiled clothing.

Hygiene Policy

A hygiene policy is the right way to start a good hygiene program at your establishment. A policy is a statement of intent regarding a plan of action. The policy should be tailored towards the type of hygiene practices you would like to enforce at your establishment. A hygiene policy for high care areas would definitely have more details than a policy for normal production areas. The two would however have the same basic ingredients. There are professionals who can be invited to help draw tailored hygiene policies for your establishment based on a risk assessment.

A hygiene policy generally states an establishment’s commitment to manufacture or cook food under very hygienic conditions to ensure consumer safety. Those that have a lot of human activities may want to emphasize the personal hygiene aspect of the policy by stating their commitment to ensure persons working in the establishment observe strict personal hygiene rules. The pillars that underpin such a policy may include; covering of hair, keeping nails short, no artificial nails permitted in the kitchen, no makeup, no spitting, no jewellery including necklaces, bracelets, watches, rings etc. Employees with long hair must tie them back and ensure they get inside the hairnet. Men should not wear beards when working in high care areas and kitchens. If for one reason or another, men would like to keep their beard, they must cover them with beard nets.

Handwashing 

Handwashing is an important component of hygienic behaviour. Potable water should always be available for employees to make washing of hands a habit. Liquid soap and quality paper napkins should always be made available. Hands must be washed on the following occasions; after touching hair, nose or face, after smoking, eating, coughing, sneezing or blowing the nose. Hands must be washed after cleaning, handling waste or refuse containers, after handling money or soiled cloths, after handling external packaging, plants or flowers, and after touching a contaminated surface. Handwashing is the single most effective way known to reduce the risk of contracting a foodborne illness by 50%.

Protective clothing worn at food premises and restaurants should be made according to strict specifications including; clean and easy to clean, no buttons but only studs and velcro fastenings, inside pockets, light coloured and short sleeved.

Benefits of Good Personal Hygiene/Consequences of Poor Personal Hygiene

The benefits of practicing good personal hygiene at the workplace are many top of which is protection of cherished consumers from food poisoning and foodborne illnesses. There are less consumer complaints and food wastage is avoided. Employees are always healthy and the environment is so conducive, it boosts their morale. It helps comply with regulatory requirements and also promote good company image.

The consequences of poor personal hygiene are the reverse of the benefits. Complaints of food poisoning become the order of the day. The safety of consumers is generally at risk and as a result the image of the establishment may be tarnished. In most instances such establishments may be closed down by regulatory authorities.

Hygiene Training

Hygiene training is key for all staff working in food manufacturing sites, hotels, restaurants and all other food joints. There are professionals who are trained to help food operations apply the needed hygiene rules to their operations to avoid the problems associated with poor hygiene. It is important that owners of such establishments contract these professionals to consistently train and retrain staff to bring them to full awareness and practice.

Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Executive Director & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality/Safety Management, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety) and can be reached on +233209996002, email: johnson@qaconsultgh.com. 

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