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Minimising the risk of cross-contamination

24 November 2017

Food Processing spoke to Chris Brooks, technical product manager at Deb about how to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination during the food manufacturing process. 

Q: Of the 5.5 million people in the UK to get food poisoning every year, do you have any idea how many of these cases originated in the production process? And to what can this be attributed?
It is hard to say where exactly each food poisoning incident originates. Even if you identify the agent of infection or disease, the journey it has taken to reach the plate includes too many interactions to single out which one might be the initial cause. However, it is estimated that up to 40% of foodborne illness outbreaks can be traced back to poor personal hygiene, which presents an issue for food producers.

Q: How can food processors reduce issues originating in the production process, due to cross-contamination?
Following correct hand washing procedures is one of the most effective ways to tackle cross-contamination in the production process. However, it is estimated that more than one-third of food handling staff do not wash their hands after visiting the toilet. This is a huge problem for organisations. To minimise the cross-contamination of food, they need to improve hand hygiene compliance.

A key element in driving hand hygiene compliance is putting clear, simple procedures in place for workers to follow. This means outlining the four critical steps to follow – apply protective creams (where appropriate) before work; use hand cleansers when hands become physically contaminated; sanitise hands when the skin is visibly clean, but potentially contaminated; and apply replenishing moisturising creams at the end of the working day or shift.

Food handlers should use sanitisers as well as washing their hands before entering areas where they need a higher level of sanitisation. Sanitisers are also an effective way to kill microbial contaminants after coughing, sneezing or touching surfaces that potentially carry bacteria, moulds and viruses.

Q: What advice can you offer about the positioning of washing resources to ensure highest possible use by staff?
To prevent poor hand hygiene and encourage compliance, employers have to provide easy access to the right hand hygiene products. And they should be looking at the critical locations around their workplaces to make sure they have easy-to-use dispensers filled with the appropriate skin care products at each one.

To achieve this, businesses should implement and regularly review a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) system. This identifies hazards in the workplace, including moments when cross-contamination could occur, and calculates the likely incident rate. After identifying the key areas when handwashing is essential, employers can place dispensers in critical locations throughout their workplaces to make food safety compliance much easier to achieve.

Working with a specialist hand hygiene company is also recommended. They can carry out site surveys to gain a full understanding of the workplace facilities, working environments, workflow, hazards and HACCP requirements. From this, recommendations on the optimum location of handwashing facilities can be made to establish best practice.

Q: Can you offer advice on ensuring that washing facilities are always properly stocked?
This is where regular, ongoing audits of the installed hand hygiene system are vital – ensuring that it continues to be effective. The system itself plays a large part, as well – with the installation of specifically designed, sealed cartridge dispensers for use with foam soaps, skin cleansers and creams strongly recommended. 

Such dispensers provide the most hygienic skin care system, by eliminating the risk of cross-infection that can occur if a number of people extract the product from an open or communal container. On top of this, they ensure that the correct amount of product is used – minimising waste and optimising cost in use.

Q: What else should food processors consider to ensure they keep the risk of cross-contamination to a minimum?
Education is vital. Skin care experts can provide training programmes and materials such as videos, leaflets, brochures, and posters. To tackle cross-contamination and eliminate foodborne illness, organisations need to take a ‘hands on’ approach to hygiene.

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