Poor food hygiene practices in a food handling environment can pose a substantial risk to Food Safety in any food handling enterprise.
Food hygiene includes personal hygiene and the general hygiene (cleanliness) of food premises. It also includes the way you hygienically handle food.
The food industry plays an enormous role in every person’s daily life.
Everyone needs to eat, and the food they eat should be safe and never pose a health risk, but we all know the reality. Food safety incidents do happen and are unnecessary. In most cases, it can be avoided or prevented by starting with the basics, like good food hygiene practices.
Food handlers are the heartbeat of every food handling enterprise but unfortunately, most food contamination occurs due to the poor food hygiene practices of food handlers.
Keep in mind the food handler is not always to blame for this. Have a look at the “Conclusion” section to see why!
We will discuss the most commonly found poor food hygiene practices of food handlers in this article. These practices can be intentional or unintentional.
Hopefully, this will create awareness of what NOT TO DO concerning food hygiene.
Top 5 Poor Handwashing Routine Practices
Poor handwashing routine is the ultimate sin of a food handler. Your hands touch everything everywhere.
It can spread contaminants at an alarming rate in a food handling area.
For example, you touch raw chicken and then, prepare a fresh salad without washing your hands. Raw chicken is a high-risk food that often contains bacteria, and a fresh salad is served without undergoing any heating process (which normally kills harmful microorganisms) before consumption. This is asking for trouble.
You can also contaminate food products with products containing allergens.
If your consumers get sick from the food you prepare and you know you don’t wash your hands regularly, chances are your contaminated hands are the cause of their discomfort.
These are the top 5 common POOR handwashing routine practices that affect Food Safety
- Not washing your hands regularly before, during and after food handling. If you seldom wash your hands, you’re committing the mother of all sins in food handling.
- Not washing your hands correctly. It’s recommended to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and use the prescribed handwashing techniques.
- Not washing your hands after smoking, eating, drinking or visiting the toilet.
- Not washing your hands after touching contaminated surfaces like waste bins. You are also not allowed to scratch any exposed part of your body (for example, your nose, head, face, etc.) and continue handling food without a proper hand wash.
- Not washing your hands before and after touching and preparing different types of food, for example, touching raw meat and then cooked meat or fruits and vegetables.
Top 5 Poor Grooming Practices
Grooming practices in food handling plays a role in food contamination. This includes the requirements for nails, hair, cosmetics and clothing.
These are the top 5 common POOR grooming practices that affect Food Safety.
- Long nails. Long nails can accumulate and harbour a lot of dirt and contaminants. It is also more difficult to remove the dirt underneath long nails during handwashing. Long nails are not allowed in food handling.
- Wearing jewellery. Certain types of jewellery like rings, armbands and watches are not smooth, have crevices and can even absorb fluids. Food particles and contaminants can easily get stuck in jewellery. It’s difficult to keep jewellry clean during food handling. Jewellery, including earrings, can also end up in food products and pose a physical hazard risk. The only jewellry allowed in food handling is a plain wedding band and medical alert bracelets.
- Not covering your hair with a hairnet or chefs hat. Men not wearing beard nets. Hair and beard nets prevent hair from ending up in food. Hairnets are compulsory in the food preparation area. It’s also commonly found that food handlers don’t properly use hairnets. ALL hair must be covered!
- Wearing cosmetics. Cosmetics like nail polish, strong perfumes and make up are not allowed in a food preparation area. It can contaminate food.
- Wearing personal clothing in a food-handling area. Food handlers must wear clothing suitable for food-handling areas. For example, jackets with no pockets above the waistline, no buttons on jackets (can dislodge and end up in food) or long sleeves.
Top 5 Poor Behaviour Practices – Bad Habits
Poor behaviour practices is also an area of concern in Food Safety.
These are the top 5 common POOR behaviour practices that affect Food Safety.
- Not covering your nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing in a food handling area. Coughing and sneezing are unavoidable. There is not always enough time to leave the food area to cough or sneeze. You have to cover your nose and mouth while sneezing or coughing (preferably with your arm and not your hands) and turn your head away from food products. Immediately wash your hands thereafter, even if you used your arm.
- Spitting on food. In most instances, this is intentional and for malicious reasons. Spitting on food is illegal.
- Not regularly washing your hands. This is also covered in the handwashing section, but it’s a very bad habit and part of poor behaviour.
- Eating and drinking in the food handling area. Food handlers are not allowed to eat or drink in the food handling area. There should be a designated area for eating and drinking.
- Sitting or resting your feet on food products, food product containers and food contact surfaces. This normally occurs when food containers with lids or pallets where food is stored are used as chairs or footrests.
Top 3 Poor Illness and Injury Practices
There are certain types of illnesses, diseases or conditions a food handler might have, which can contaminate food and food contact surfaces. For example, Hepatitis A, sore throat with fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, sores, lesions, infection of the eyes, discharge from the ears, etc.
There are also specific procedures to follow regarding injuries that may contaminate food products and food contact surfaces.
These are the top 3 common POOR illness and injury practices that can affect Food Safety.
- Not reporting injuries, conditions or illnesses that may affect Food Safety to the manager or supervisor immediately. For example, diarrhoea or a cut on a finger.
- Not discarding food that came in contact with blood, for example, cutting your finger during food preparation and rinsing the blood from the food product instead of discarding it.
- Not covering injuries on hands with a brightly coloured bandage, and waterproofing it using a glove.
Top 10 Poor Food Preparation Practices
Poor food preparation practices can easily be considered the second-highest leading cause of food contamination concerning poor food hygiene practices.
These are the top 10 common POOR preparation practices that affect Food Safety.
- Leaving perishable food items at room temperature for too long before refrigeration. The golden rule is no longer than 2 hours but can change to less when the ambient temperature is very hot.
- Not discarding food left out for too long. This goes hand in hand with number 1. This is a real problem area because discarding food is costly for companies, which means chances are the food goes to the fridge anyway and the food handler won’t tell.
- Incorrect temperature control measures for high-risk foods. This is also one of the leading causes of foodbourne illnesses. Food should be cooked, reheated, chilled or frozen at the correct recommended temperatures. For example, ready-to-eat meals. The golden rule is to keep hot food hot and cold food cold.
- Refreezing completely thawed food. You are not allowed to refreeze completely thawed food. You can store it in the refrigerator for a limited period or cook it immediately. The only other alternative is to send it to the waste bin.
- Not washing and rinsing fruits and vegetables before use. Always wash and rinse fruit and vegetables before use, even if you’re going to peel them. Contaminants on the skins of fruits and vegetables can be transferred to the rest of the product during the peeling or cutting process.
- Rinsing meat. We should wash and rinse our fruit and vegetables before use, but the complete opposite is true for meat, especially chicken. NEVER rinse meat. The contaminated splashing water can contaminate the surrounding areas and clothing. It increases the risk of cross-contamination drastically in a food handling environment.
- Not separating different types of food during preparation. For example, raw meat, fresh produce and cooked products are in such close proximity that they can contaminate each other. Always keep meat separate from fruits and vegetables.
- Using the same utensils and equipment for processing raw meat and fresh produce without washing it first. For example, cutting meat and then cutting vegetables and not cleaning the knife between these processes. The same is applicable for cutting boards. A good practice is to have different utensils for meat and vegetables, like colour coded cutting boards.
- Tasting food repeatably with the same dirty spoon. Use a clean spoon every time you want to taste food during preparation. Once the spoon enters your mouth, it’s considered contaminated.
- Not using a food thermometer. For example, you have to use a thermometer to measure the core temperature of meat products during cooking or while reheating food.
Top 9 Poor Cleaning Practices in the Food Handling Area
The cleaning of food handling premises is a delicate operation. Food handlers might follow the same routines they practise at home for cleaning, but these are sometimes not suitable or allowed in a food handling enterprise.
Cleaning can do more harm than good if food handlers are not well trained in all aspects of cleaning. This includes the correct use, storage and cleaning of cleaning equipment and chemicals. Food handlers must know what to clean, how to clean it, and when to clean.
These are the top 9 common POOR cleaning practices specifically in food handling areas that affect Food Safety.
- Not cleaning food preparation and processing areas properly before, DURING and after food handling. For example, countertops.
- Not cleaning food equipment properly. Some food equipment can have hard to reach places or might be time-consuming to clean. Food handlers often neglect the cleaning of equipment.
- Using unsuitable cleaning equipment for cleaning, for example, traditional spaghetti mops. Spaghetti mops are NOT recommended for use in the food industry, especially in the food handling areas. They are not easy to clean during and after use, which means they can spread contaminants as you go. Easy-to-keep clean cleaning tools, like microfiber flat mops, are a better option for cleaning floors. Their mop heads are easy to change and launder.
- Using the same cleaning equipment for everything and everywhere. Different tools for different surfaces and different areas of the food premises are a must. To achieve this, use colour coded equipment indicating the different equipment for different areas. For example, cleaning equipment for the food handling area should not be used anywhere else on the food premises.
- Not using food-grade cleaning detergents and sanitisers for food handling areas, especially countertops.
- Not following the correct steps of cleaning and sanitising.
- Incorrect use of detergents and sanitisers. There are very specific requirements how to use and dilute cleaning detergents and sanitisers. You have to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the T. The incorrect use of detergents and sanitisers can make the products ineffective or even dangerous.
- Not cleaning the cleaning equipment. Cleaning equipment must be cleaned after use and stored correctly to avoid the accumulation of contaminants.
- Storing cleaning equipment and chemicals in the food handling area. Cleaning equipment and chemicals should have a separate storage area away from any food products.
Top 5 Poor Food Storage Practices
Poor food storage practices can promote the accumulation and growth of harmful microorganisms and cause food contamination.
These are the top 5 common POOR food storage practices of food handlers that affects Food Safety.
- Not cleaning and drying food storage containers properly before food is stored in them. A quick rinse is not good enough.
- Topping up food containers, especially containers with high-risk foods. For example, the grated cheese container is nearly empty and adding a new batch of grated cheese to the old batch. Another example is adding more marinated meat to the marinated meat container on display in your butchery.
- Using unsuitable or damaged containers for storage. Food storage containers should always be in a good condition, suitable and covered (lids).
- Storing raw and cooked food together. Raw and cooked food should be stored separately and as far as possible from each other to avoid the raw food contaminating the cooked food. This is especially true for meat products but also includes other high-risk food products stored in display and serving areas, as well as in the fridge or walk-in coolers.
- Not cleaning food storage areas regularly. A good example is the cleaning of walk-in coolers and refrigerators. These areas are sometimes grossly neglected in some food handling enterprises. Do at least basic daily cleaning, and more intensive cleaning at suitable intervals.
Top 4 Poor Pest Control Practices
Poor pest control practices can promote the increase of pest activity. Pests can carry a variety of diseases and even parasites which can contaminate food.
These are the top 4 common POOR pest control practices of food handlers that affect the hygiene of the food premises.
- Not reporting the presence of pests when noticed in the food handling area to the manager or supervisor. This is a common and bad habit.
- Not following proper food hygiene practices when pests (for example, flies and ants) are noticed on food products. Find out from your manager what the correct procedure is when pests are present on/in/around food. It will also depend on the type of food. For example, what must you do when flies are sitting on your freshly prepared chicken salad ready to be served?
- Using household insecticides (sprays) in the food handling area. Most insecticides are pesticides and can contaminate food and food contact surfaces with harmful chemicals. Not to mention the dead insects landing on food products. This is more common than you think, especially in smaller food handling enterprises without proper Food Safety guidelines for pest control.
- Improper waste control attracts pests (see below).
Top 5 Poor Waste Control Practices
Poor waste control practices can, directly and indirectly, affect the hygiene of food premises, increase pest activity and ultimately cause food contamination.
These are the top 5 common POOR waste control practices of food handlers that affect the hygiene of the food premises.
- Waste in the food handling area is not placed in the waste bins immediately and left to accumulate on countertops (for example, food waste) and floors (for example, empty containers and boxes).
- Waste from the food handling area is left in the waste bins overnight.
- Waste bins in the food handling area are not washed and disinfected at the end of the workday.
- Waste bins overflow (not cleaned frequently).
- The lids on waste bins are left open. We know how much flies and other pests love the smell of waste.
Insufficient or lack of proper Food Safety training for food handlers are the number one reason for poor food hygiene practices. How can you follow proper food handling practices if you don’t even know the dos and don’ts?
Another reason for poor food hygiene practices by food handlers is poor management. Owners, managers and supervisors should be clued up in all aspects of Food Safety, have policies and procedures in place and regularly verify good food hygiene practices. Communication with food handlers is key!
Cutting corners to save money is the worst. By doing this you force food handlers to practice poor food hygiene, and there is nothing they can do about it.
You can prevent poor food hygiene practices by following basic Food Safety rules.
Make sure your food doesn’t harm your consumers! Everyone in a food handling enterprise should take responsibility for Food Safety and take this responsibility seriously.
Are you, your food handlers or the food-handling business guilty of any of the above?
Please drop us a comment in the comment section below. We would love the hear what you have to say!