By Laurel Maloy, contributing writer, Food Online
Aside from the obvious — preventing the spread of foodborne illnesses — tightening up on hand-washing requirements can improve production and reduce costs.
Sometimes it seems like we are beating a dead horse when discussing the importance of hand hygiene in the work place. But, the truth is, that those signs in the restrooms and above wash stations sometimes go unnoticed by employees. The signs, though meant to be effective, are highly inadequate, unless accompanied by management’s continued emphasis on the importance of the practice and ongoing training.
Consider these facts:
- Foodborne pathogens are easily transmitted through the fecal-oral route. E. coli, Salmonella, Norovirus, Hepatitis A, Rotavirus, and Clostridium are readily spread by fecal-contaminated hands. Fecal contamination occurs because one person, who didn’t wash their hands, or didn’t wash them properly, touches a surface. Another person, even if they washed their hands properly, only has to touch that surface and then touch any utensil or food product to pass along that fecal matter.
- In one study of 16 different food-service operations, researchers found that compliance with Food Code recommendations for hand washing, regarding both frequency and procedural compliance, were alarmingly low. The study found that not only were employees skipping the task, but that those that did wash their hands, did it improperly.
- Hand washing, or the lack thereof, contributes to workplace illnesses. Many food-processing establishments will argue that the recommended frequency and time that hand washing requires results in elevated production costs and man hours. The truth is that it has been proven that employee productivity decreases, while utilized sick time increases, in direct correlation to hand washing activities in the workplace — in ANY workplace.
- This study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that an emphasis on hand-washing education and training resulted in 31 percent fewer cases of diarrhea, with a whopping 58 percent reduction in people with previously weakened immune systems. Respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold, were reduced by 21 percent.
- Sick employees are not only much-less productive, they often spread illness to those they work with. Additionally, illnesses are then spread to their families, exponentially resulting in even more loss of time, as well as increased healthcare costs. Increased healthcare costs are directly related to higher healthcare premiums.
- This Kansas State University study discovered that teens are less likely to wash their hands, making them more likely to contaminate raw foods than adults. Though conducted in 2009, there is no evidence suggesting that number has improved.
Though, hand-washing practices are slowly evolving. Day care facilities, hospitals, and schools are all engaged in training people to better protect their health by washing their hands. Habits, good or bad, are most often learned at home. Hand washing has only recently become a priority in the home so the transition to the workplace should likely follow.