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Reducing hand hygiene non-compliance

16 May 2016

Strict adherence to hand hygiene procedures is vital in the food sector. Suzanne Gill finds out what can be done to make it less challenging for staff to comply. 

According to The Food Standards Agency (FSA) Foodborne diseases cost the UK economy just under £1.5 billion each year, with around one million people suffering a foodborne illness and around 500 deaths. Because 80% of all infections are transmitted by hands it is essential that regulations and guidelines are tightly followed within food processing environments. The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations, 2006, introduced EU Regulation 852/2004 on the Hygiene of Foodstuffs and Specific Hygiene Rules for Food of Animal Origin (EU Regulation 853/2004). These requirements highlight the need for the provision of suitable and sufficient hand washing facilities. They describe the location of hand washing areas; availability of hot and cold water; cleaning products (liquid soap); drying materials (single use towels or hand dryers); advisory signs to prompt hand washing and the need for hand-free taps to prevent the spread of contamination.

In high risk areas, hand disinfectant products should also be provided. The regulations state that hand cleaning should be performed on entry to production areas and at a frequency that is appropriate to minimise the risk of product contamination.

Additionally, the Food Standards Agency provides guidance on when and how to wash hands, including effective hand washing techniques to ensure that pathogens are significantly reduced. It is also key that a Food Safety Management Procedure is in place and that this is followed correctly. This would incorporate a HACCP process, utilising assessment protocols to identify critical hand hygiene control points and address hygiene ‘hotspots.’

Without strict adherence to hand washing procedures in food processing plants cross contamination, by the transfer of pathogenic or spoilage organisms, can lead to isolated or large scale food poisoning outbreaks. Apart from the health implications to the individuals affected, this can also result in penalties being enforced on companies, ranging from fines to closure. The cost to the business, and its reputation, from negative publicity could also be significant.

The reasons for non-compliance with hand washing requirements can be varied, with the most commonly identified problems including:
• Lack of awareness and understanding of hygiene issues.
• Poor access to hand wash sinks.
• Inadequate facilities, including soap provision and drying materials.
• Poor quality soap which leads to dry and cracked skin.
• Water being too hot or too cold.
• Insufficient time allocated for hand washing.

Deb, a supplier of skin care and hand hygiene solutions, advocates the implementation of a specialist skin care and hand hygiene programme. “These should be tailored to meet the needs of a business and can deliver many advantages, including health, cost and environmental savings,” said Chris Brooks, technical product manager at Deb. “When evaluating the cost effectiveness of different products it is essential to look at the 'cost in use' to fully understand whether one product is more cost effective than another. A simple price comparison on several 1 litre packs, for example, will not determine which offers the best value over time.”

Factors that affect the final cost of a hand washing system include the type of dispenser installed, the quantity of soap dispensed each time and the quality of the soap. A specialist hand hygiene system will incorporate a dispenser which dispenses an optimised shot of soap/foam of appropriate type. The result is that the soap goes further. “A foaming soap product will go further still, as the optimum quantity dispensed is less than a soap product,” explained Brooks. “For example, Deb’s OxyBAC incorporates the latest foaming technology which helps to optimise 'cost in use' while also killing 99.999% of common germs.”

The use of a foaming and cleaning solution will also deliver other cost and environmental benefits. As a foaming product, less water is required to create a lather, reducing washing time and water consumption. “In addition, OxyBAC uniquely breaks down into oxygen and water leaving no environmentally polluting residue,” said Brooks.

Which dispenser
An other area for consideration in the food processing environment is the cost effectiveness of a sealed cartridge soap dispensing system versus a refillable dispenser. A refillable system is prone to bacterial accumulation and thorough cleaning is required to remove any build up, this takes time and resource. A sealed cartridge system will minimise cleaning and also eliminates any waste from spillages when refilling.

Ultimately, a comprehensive strategy will ensure that all necessary steps are taken to minimise the risk of cross-contamination, food poisoning outbreaks and occupational skin disease.

Installing a hand hygiene system that is specified to accurately meet a company’s individual needs, and which reliably dispenses products to enhance the condition of employees' hands, is the most powerful way to drive compliance. Products which thoroughly and effectively wash, sanitise and restore skin condition encourages reuse and ensures that regulations are met and reduces the risk of cross contamination of food. In addition, it can help to increase morale and reduce rates of occupational skin disease and employee sickness.

Alongside the use of specialist products, a knowledgeable workforce, who properly understand their responsibilities, is also a key part of a effective hand hygiene strategy. Through training and the implementation of a Hand Hygiene Policy, which sets the requirements for standards, facilities, implementation and monitoring, changes in habits can be achieved and hand hygiene robustly managed.

Where to start
Through an integrated skin care programme a change in hand hygiene strategy can be effectively introduced. An initial site survey, reviewing all existing hand wash areas is recommended. This should take into account the quality of the facilities, the hand hygiene product system in place, the quantity of hand care areas and the location of these areas. In conjunction, a risk assessment should also be undertaken to identify when hands need to be washed, the hand wash method adopted and what cross contamination routes there may be. The assessment of the site survey would lead to product recommendations for each area, ensuring that appropriate products are available and accessible to workers where and when required. The risk assessment may additionally identify the need for further improvements in such as the facilities, hand washing methods and procedures.

Getting in a specialist company to help implement a hand hygiene system change can be a good idea. They should be able to help undertake a site audit and site training of staff as well as advising on the positioning of dispensers. “Deb also offers the provision of support materials such as point of use signage, posters and personal information cards to promote good hand hygiene among staff and is able to conduct ongoing audits to show compliance levels,” said Brooks.

A business will be able to monitor and measure the success of a new hand hygiene strategy by reviewing costs pre and post installation. The aim of an integrated hand hygiene approach is to deliver 'cost in use' savings over time with employee well-being being another essential measure.

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