The Duties of a Food Handler – Hygiene, Health and Behaviour (R638-R11)

Food businesses and food handlers go hand-in-hand. The one cannot survive without the other. Food handlers are one the biggest assets of any food business but can also pose the biggest threat concerning Food Safety.

Food handlers who do not keep a proper degree of personal hygiene and grooming, who have certain illnesses, or conditions or who behave inappropriately, can contaminate food and transmit illness to consumers through food.

Let’s look at the most basic duties of food handlers concerning Food Safety.

This article discusses the requirements of Regulation 11 (DUTIES OF A FOOD HANDLER) of Regulation R638 of 2018, which governs the general hygiene requirements for food premises, the transport of food and related matters in South Africa.

Please read our Disclaimers and Disclosures page. We do not provide legal advice.

Personal Hygiene – Grooming and Handwashing

Food handlers are not allowed to handle food, food containers or any facilities unless they follow the following basic personal hygiene and grooming requirements:

  • Hands – clean and free from contaminants.
  • Clothes – clean.
  • Nails – short, trimmed, clean, no nail polish/varnish or false nails.
Personal hygiene - handwashing

When Should a Food Handler Wash Their Hands?

A food handler should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water or clean them in another effective manner:

  • Immediately before the start of each work shift.
  • At the beginning of the day’s work.
  • After a rest period.
  • After every visit to a latrine or urinal.
  • Every time they blow their nose, or after their hands have been in contact with perspiration or with their hair, nose or mouth.
  • After handling a handkerchief, money, a refuse container or refuse.
  • After handling raw vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat or fish and before handling ready-to-use (ready-to-eat) food.
  • After smoking or using tobacco in any form or when returning to the food premises.
  • After handling a non-prepacked foodstuff classified as a common allergen, where the contamination can result in the cross-contamination of other food not associated with common allergens.
  • After their hands have become soiled or contaminated for any other reason.

Reporting of Injuries, Illnesses and Other Conditions

It is important to monitor and/or report certain diseases (illnesses), conditions and injuries that can affect Food Safety.

Food handlers are sometimes reluctant to report illnesses that may pose a risk to Food Safety for fear of losing their jobs or income. It is, therefore, crucial for food handling enterprises to establish a decent food safety culture within their organisation.

Use brightly coloured dressings to cover wounds

Food handlers are not allowed to handle food, a facility or a container if they have or suffering from the following injuries, conditions or illnesses:

  • A suppurating (oozing) abscess or a sore (unless covered with a firmly secured waterproof dressing to prevent food contamination)
  • A cut or abrasion (unless covered with a firmly secured waterproof dressing to prevent food contamination)
  • Other infected skin lesions (unless covered with a firmly secured waterproof dressing to prevent food contamination.)
  • Suffering or suspected of suffering from or being a carrier of a disease, or condition in its contagious stage, likely to be transmitted through food, which includes the following:
    • Jaundice
    • Diarrhoea
    • Vomiting
    • Fever
    • Sore throat with a fever.
    • Discharges from the ears, eyes, or nose.

Food handlers who suffer from any of the abovementioned can only resume handling food, a facility or a container if they submit a medical certificate stating they are fit to do so.

It’s required by law that a food handler immediately report any conditions, diseases or injuries likely to contaminate food to their supervisors, and supervisors must immediately take the appropriate action.

Prohibited Personal Behaviour

Every food handler must ensure their personal behaviour does not contaminate food, food contact surfaces and food-handling areas. Certain behaviours are not acceptable or allowed by law when working in a food handling environment and where open food is present.

Prohibited Personal Behaviour for Food Handlers

The following personal behaviours are NOT allowed in food handling areas:

  • Spitting in any food handling area or on any facility.
  • Smoking or handling tobacco while handling non-prepacked food or in any food handling area.
  • Non-prepacked food should not touch any exposed part of your body, excluding your hands, during handling. The most commonly exposed parts of your body are usually your face and neck. It all depends on what protective clothing you are wearing during food handling.
  • Licking of fingers when you handle non-prepacked food or food wrapping material. Some people unconsciously bite their nails. Keep this in check during food handling. If you do lick your fingers, bite your nails or put your fingers in your mouth for any reason, immediately wash your hands before you touch any open food or wrapping material.
  • Coughing, blowing your nose or sneezing over non-prepacked food, food containers or other facilities.
  • Spitting on whetstones, also called sharpening stones. Where required, use water to keep the sharpening stone wet during use.
  • Bring meat skewers, labels, equipment, or any other object used in food handling in contact with your mouth.
  • Touch your mouth with your hands during food handling.
  • Inflate sausage casings, bags or other wrapping material by mouth or in any manner that may contaminate the food.
  • Walk, sit, stand or lie on food, non-hermetically sealed food containers, other food containers, food-processing surfaces, or other facilities.
  • Use a handwashing basin for the cleaning of facilities. For example, you cannot wash your dishes where you wash your hands and vice versa.
  • Perform any other act (not already mentioned above) which may contaminate or spoil food.


When it comes to personal hygiene and grooming, the basic requirements for food handlers are simple but extremely important. Clean hands and clothes. Clean, trimmed and short fingernails without any cosmetics. These are non-negotiable requirements.

A food handler also has to report any illness, injury, or other medical conditions that may pose a risk to Food Safety, and supervisors should immediately take the proper action.

Certain personal behaviours are not allowed on food premises, especially in food handling areas and where non-prepackaged food is stored and handled.

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