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The importance of washing your hands

by Rob Haywood
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Good hygiene tips for the catering industry

The production and preparation of food inevitably involves the handling of ingredients by staff members. This in itself presents multiple risks to the end consumer of the product. Inadequate hygiene among those handling food stuffs is one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Contamination with specific, and very nasty, illnesses such as salmonella, E. coli and shigella can arise from unwashed hands and represents a serious hazard to human health. The NHS reports that in the UK, food poisoning is to blame for an estimated 20,000 hospitalisations and 500 deaths every year*.

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The preventative measure most often highlighted in articles on avoiding food poisoning is thoroughly washing hands before handling and eating food. Human hands can carry around 1,500 germs on each square centimetre of skin**. Germs are picked up from human to human contact and from contaminated surfaces we use on a daily basis, such as phone receivers and keyboards. Unless hands are washed thoroughly and regularly, these germs will remain on the skin and spread to food products the individual touches. This is the case whether the contact is brief, such as when moving the items along through production and packing them into crates or bags, or prolonged, as when food is being prepared or cooked for service. The potential for infection is present regardless. 

Every employer and employee working in food preparation and production should be fully aware of the importance of good hygiene in food safety. This is a central part of most training within the industry. Hand washing is the most basic and simple step which employees can take to protect themselves and their customers. It must be carried out correctly. Most authorities recommend that washing takes place for around 20 seconds, with the soap thoroughly rubbed into the fronts and backs of the hands and between the fingers, even involving the upper forearms. And it must be carried out without fail before the employee begins to work with food and after every visit to the bathroom. 

Because the food industry often involves high pressure and fast paced work, which could cause individuals to forget the necessity of cleanliness, correct signage has an important role to play in maintaining awareness among staff and reminding them of the importance of regular hand washing. Just one mistake could endanger the health and even the lives of customers and clients, effectively ending a business. 

*http://www.nhs.uk/news/2013/07July/Pages/Food-poisoning-warning-over-fruit-and-veg.aspx 

**http://www.health.state.mn.us/handhygiene/why/hide.html

by Rob Haywood

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