Ensuring that all employees follow personal hygiene best practices has a significant impact on limiting the food safety risks in a food business. A large component of establishing good personal hygiene is taking the proper precautions to prevent contaminating food with harmful bacteria or viruses from the clothing a food worker wears.
If no measures are put in place, the clothing a Food Handler wears at work could infect food with biological or physical contaminants. By implementing guidelines for proper work attire for Food Handlers, along with managers and other employees, a food business can improve their food safety processes and minimize food safety risks. This includes implementing work clothing requirements, along with rules for wearing hair restraints, gloves and jewellery while on the job.
Uniform and clothing requirements
Uniforms and other clothing worn by Food Handlers at work play a vital role in food safety. While food businesses may have different rules and regulations for their uniforms, the following clothing best practices should be maintained:
Uniforms should not be worn outside of the workplace
Food Handlers should never wear their uniforms outside of the workplace. Clothing can get dirty easily, becoming a food safety hazard with the risk of carrying bacteria from one place to another. Reduce the risk of cross-contamination by ensuring that there is a safe and clean space in the workplace where staff can change into their work attire.
Wash and store clothing properly
Prevent the spread of bacteria by keeping work attire microbial clean. This means that the microbes on the clothing have been reduced to a safe level. If staff is responsible for cleaning their work attire, include an auditing process to ensure the rule is followed.
Keep spare uniforms handy
Clothing may become accidentally soiled or dirtied while working, or a colleague may forget to bring a clean uniform to work. Keep additional uniforms or proper work attire for Food Handlers available in case a clean spare is needed.
Change aprons to limit cross-contamination
Always change aprons when switching from working with high-risk foods such as raw meat to other types of food.
Only use gloves and hairnets once
Disposable gloves and hairnets are designed to be used only once. After using, they should be disposed of immediately.
Using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE are great tools for Food Handlers to use to ensure that their body, or anything from their body such as bacteria or viruses, does not contaminate food. PPE also help ensure that bacteria, viruses and other contaminants are not transmitted to the Food Handler. Three common PPE for the food industry are:
Viruses are spread between people through droplets released when an individual speaks, breathes, coughs or sneezes. Wearing face masks protects the wearer from inhaling or transmitting these droplets and spreading the virus. To wear face masks safely:
- Wash your hands before putting on a mask
- Ensure the mask is covering both your mouth and nose
- Avoid touching the mask while wearing it
- Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it gets damp
- Don’t touch the front of a mask when removing it, discard it immediately in a closed bin and wash your hands thoroughly after removing
- Never reuse single-use masks
Wearing disposable gloves can help Food Handlers from coming into direct contact with bacteria, viruses and parasites through their hands. They are also recommended when handling ready-to-eat foods so that bacteria and viruses are not transmitted onto the food being served.
If used right, gloves can be a great food safety tool. However, it’s important to remember that gloves can also pick up bacteria. Follow these best practices when using gloves to prevent food safety hazards:
- Wash your hands before putting on or changing gloves.
- Gloves should be changed as often and for the same reasons as you would wash your hands.
- Once gloves become contaminated, torn or damaged, they should be disposed of immediately, including right after handling money.
- Gloves should be changed every two to four hours if they do not become contaminated, torn or damaged within that timeframe.
In some jurisdictions, it’s mandatory to wear disposable gloves at certain times during food preparation. For example, some localities prohibit Food Handlers from touching ready-to-eat food with bare hands. In other jurisdictions, the use of disposable gloves is discouraged because individuals might not follow the best practices outlined above. Always check local regulations to ensure compliance.
Aprons help prevent contaminants from getting onto a Food Handler’s clothing. A clean apron should be used every shift and should be changed whenever contamination by viruses or other food safety risks occur. Food Handlers should also wash their hands thoroughly before putting on or after taking off an apron.
Prevent contamination caused by hair
Hair can be a source of both biological and physical contamination. If not restrained properly, hair can fall into food and can also contaminate food with the bacteria that thrives on it. Considering these food safety risks, staff who handle food, food equipment or utensils should follow these food safety hair rules:
- Ensure hair is clean when working in a food handling environment
- Long hair should be tied back and constrained using a hairnet
- Facial hair should be covered using a beard restraint
Wear minimal jewellery
Food Handlers should wear minimal jewellery when handling food. Jewellery can prevent effective hand washing, can be a source of bacteria contamination or can even be a physical contaminant if it falls into food. Reduce food safety hazards caused by wearing jewellery by following these best practices:
- Have a documented policy for wearing jewellery in the workplace. The only acceptable jewellery to wear in a food handling setting are medical alert bracelets and necklaces. Local regulations determine whether it’s permitted to wear a wedding band when working with food.
- Never touch jewellery while working with food.
- Train your team on potential food safety hazards from wearing jewellery.
- Ensure all staff follow the organization’s jewellery rules.
Ensuring that all Food Handlers and staff follow proper procedures for wearing work clothing, along with best practices for wearing hair restraints, gloves and jewellery, will help reduce a variety of food safety risks in a food business. However, following proper clothing requirements is only one part of ensuring that Food Handlers are practicing good personal hygiene. Other factors, such as correct hand washing, avoiding handling food when sick and additional behaviours in the workplace all play a part in minimizing food safety risks.
Not only is practicing proper hygiene integral in preventing the spread of food-borne illness, Food Handlers and food businesses also have legal obligations to ensure that food is not contaminated and is prepared safely. To learn more about how to cultivate a safe and hygienic working environment, download the CIFS Guide to Personal Hygiene for Food Handlers.