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Better skin care results in safer food and healthier hands

03 January 2017

There is more to hand hygiene than simply washing your hands in food processing environments, as Paul Jakeway explains. 

Working in the food processing industry exposed the skin to considerable strain on a daily basis. Food safety is paramount, and regular handwashing with soap is crucial. Workers need to frequently wash their hands – not just before and after contact with food, but before and after breaks, and at key moments such as after using the washroom, coughing, sneezing or touching contaminated surfaces. 

It’s hardly surprising that this is a clear priority for the industry. Figures from the Food Standard Agency (FSA) show that up to 5.5 million people are being affected by food poisoning in the UK each year. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every year foodborne diseases cause one-in-10 people to fall ill, resulting in 420,000 deaths.

There is another – much less talked about – threat. Occupational skin disorders are skin problems acquired in the workplace. These can range from mild, short-term skin irritations to serious conditions such as occupational dermatitis. At the extreme end of the spectrum, there is skin cancer. 

Research leaves no doubt about the seriousness of the problem: every year, around three million working days are lost because of occupational skin disorders, costing the EU an estimated €600m. It is the second most common work-related health problem in Europe – yet it still goes largely unreported.

No clear guidelines
With no clear guidelines for skin care best practice there is insufficient perception of the problem and the lack of understanding of the consequences of poor skin conditions. The most common occupational skin disorder is dermatitis, and it is estimated that 40% of dermatitis cases in the food industry are caused by contact with foods. 

What can be done to prevent both the cross contamination of food and the threat of occupational skin disorders? As a first step, a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system should be effectively implemented and regularly reviewed. This identifies hazards in the workplace, such as moments when cross-contamination could occur, or when certain arduous substances could irritate the skin, and calculates the likely incident rate.
Four-step programme
Based on this, a four-step skin care programme should then be implemented. Such a programme identifies four crucial moments: applying protective creams before work; using appropriate hand cleansers after hands become contaminated; sanitising hands in environments where access to running water is inconvenient; and applying restorative creams at the end of the day.

Specially formulated to leave a protective layer on the surface of the skin, protective creams can reduce direct contact with specific types of physical contaminants, help retain natural lipids and moisture in the skin, improve comfort and skin strength when wearing gloves, and make the skin quicker and easier to clean.

Cleansers are essential to remove dirt and contaminants from the skin during the work day, while sanitisers are recommended to kill germs and bacteria following breaks, visits to the toilets, coughing, sneezing, or touching surfaces that are likely to be heavily contaminated.

Restorative products are as important. Applied at the end of the day, they moisturise, nourish and condition the skin, helping preventit from becoming dry or damaged. By taking into account the potential hazards the skin might come into contact with, as well as the specific nature of the work, skin experts should be able to suggest the right cleansers and creams.

The installation of specifically designed, sealed cartridge dispensers for use with soaps, skin cleansers and creams is recommended. These provide the most hygienic skin care system, by reducing to a minimum the risk of cross-infection that can occur if a number of people extract the product from an open or communal container. Dispensers also assure that the correct amount of product is used – minimising waste and optimising cost in use. 

For a skin care programme to be effective, education is crucial, and this should be an ongoing conversation. Materials such as leaflets, posters, and information boards are widely available from skin care experts to help increase awareness. Regular staff meetings are a good way to keep skin care on everyone’s mind on a day-to-day basis. 

If employers and employees work together, they can go a long way to make sure that food stays safe – and hands healthy.
Paul Jakeway is marketing director at Deb.

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