By Taylor O’Bannon, Michelle Danyluk and Matt Krug
If you visited any public building or restroom during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have noticed an increased focus on handwashing and hygiene principles reflected in an abundance of signage on doors and in hallways. While it is great that public awareness has increased in the last 18 months, these have always been important principles, especially for all food-related businesses. Now, more than ever, is a great time to review and implement proper handwashing and hygiene practices and encourage employees to do the same.
Scientific studies support that properly washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water will lead to a significant reduction of microorganisms on hands and will remove transient organisms. Maintaining good personal hygiene also plays an important role in preventing disease transmission by preventing cross-contamination of pathogens to food and food contact surfaces.
In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 26% decrease in incidence of infections caused by enteric foodborne pathogens, an unprecedented drop in foodborne illness infections compared to 2017–19 data. An increase of proper handwashing and personal hygiene were cited as contributors to this decline. While these principles have been the building blocks of food-safety programs for years; it seems some people are finally taking them more seriously.
Practicing proper handwashing and good personal hygiene is not a new concept in the produce industry. The Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables was released in 1998. Among the eight major principles, worker health and hygiene focuses on the importance of training workers on proper handwashing techniques and good hygiene practices. In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule went into effect requiring farms to have a documented worker training program that also focuses on handwashing and hygiene.
Workers play an important role in preventing contamination by foodborne pathogens on the farm. When training workers, it is important to focus on:
- When hands must be washed
- How to properly wash hands
- Maintaining gloves in sanitary condition
- Proper use of toilet and facilities
- Maintaining personal cleanliness
- Avoiding contact with animals
- Notifying their supervisor if they are ill/injured
Additionally, workers and visitors must have access to the proper equipment and supplies to practice proper handwashing and personal hygiene. It is important to ensure the following is supplied to support proper handwashing and good personal hygiene:
- Toilet paper
- Clean water
- Paper towels
- Container to catch wastewater
- Garbage cans
- First aid kit
- Break areas separate from production areas
Everyone plays a role in the prevention of contamination on the farm. It is important to ensure workers recognize their roles and are trained to identify risks that can occur. Additionally, there are many resources available to support the implementation of worker health and hygiene programs.
Printable handwashing posters can be found at the following websites:
For more information about the FSMA Produce Safety Rule requirements or help establishing a worker training program, contact UFFoodSafety@ifas.ufl.edu.
Taylor O’Bannon is a state specialized Extension agent in food safety at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) in Lake Alfred. Michelle Danyluk is a professor at the UF/IFAS CREC. Matt Krug is a statewide food science Extension agent at the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.
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