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Safer food, healthier employees

At this time of year, the festive rush will be uppermost in the minds of most operators. With a plethora of customers no doubt visiting your establishment for the first time, the last thing you need is to suffer any kind of negative fallout, whether through service, food or hygiene issues. Paul Jakeway, Marketing Director at skin care expert Deb, explains how the implementation of a proper skin care system can help caterers keep their food safe - and their employees healthy

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), it is estimated that up to 5.5 million people are affected by food poisoning in the UK each year. In the vast majority of cases, the cause is thought to be food prepared outside of the home.

If a catering business is affected by food poisoning, the consequences can be devastating: companies might be hit with considerable costs, and the customer trust that can be lost due to such incidences is not easily regained. In extreme cases, legal action can be taken, often making the damage irreparable.

To combat the threat of food poisoning, hand hygiene is crucial. Employees in the catering industry must 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.

Yet, research suggests that hand hygiene compliance in the catering sector is not nearly where it ought to be.

In the FSA’s largest ever UK-wide survey of food hygiene knowledge among workers in the catering industry, 39% of employees admitted to not washing their hands after visiting the toilet, and 53% confessed that they did not always wash their hands before preparing food. Recognition of hand hygiene as a business priority was low too, with just under half (42%) of catering managers listing hygiene as a key factor in the success of their business.

Occupational Skin DiseasesOccupational Skin Diseases

Those working in food-handling environments are among the highest at risk of Occupational Skin Diseases (OSD). Ranging from red, sore, or chapped skin to occupational dermatitis, OSD is the second most common work-related health problem in Europe – causing employees to miss around three million working days every year.

According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an estimated 84,000 people have dermatitis caused or made worse by their work across all industries in the UK. As a result, 132,000 working days are lost each year, costing employers an estimated £20 million.

For an employee, the ramifications of skin conditions can be damaging on an individual level – both in terms of lost income resulting from a prolonged absence from work, as well as the impact on their personal life and general well-being.

The food and catering industries are particularly affected by OSD. According to the HSE, the number of new cases per year is twice the average of other industries. With the catering industry accounting for about 10% of all occupational dermatitis, this is clearly one of the main occupational health risks that need to be addressed by the sector.

A stitch in time saves nine

The consequences of OSD can be severe. If cases of dermatitis affect staff, employers might not only have to pay the salary of the absent employee, they might also need to pay overtime incurred by those covering for the absent employee. Work-related ill health, such as dermatitis, can cost twice as much as injuries caused by accidents, the HSE warns.

The good news is that not only can caterers prevent OSD, but that it is much cheaper to take simple precautions than it is to deal with the consequences.

Ongoing education

Staff education is crucial. Employees have to know the critical handwashing points, such as before and after visiting the toilet, before preparing food and after handling raw food and equipment. In addition, which products should be used and how to use them correctly

Hand hygiene education and training should not be a one-off event, but an ongoing conversation between employer and employee. To help them in their efforts, caterers can get advice from organisations specialising in the issue. Materials such as leaflets, posters, and information boards are widely available and help employers to increase awareness of hand hygiene compliance. Regular staff meetings are a good way to keep handwashing on everyone’s mind.

Skin careSkin care

Educating employees about hand hygiene protocols is futile if the correct skin care products are not available to staff. Employers must ensure that accessible, easy-to-use dispensers filled with appropriate skin care products are placed in critical locations to encourage food safety compliance from all employees.

To best prevent any kind of work-related skin problems, this proven four-step programme for skin care should be implemented in all catering environments:

1. Apply protection cream before work

A pre-work cream is applied to the hands to provide preventive care and protect the skin from exposure to arduous materials. These creams are specially formulated to leave a protective layer on the surface of the skin.

2. Use appropriate hand cleansers after hands become contaminated

Hand cleansers should be used regularly throughout the day.

3. Sanitise to kill germs and bacteria on hands

The use of sanitisers is recommended where there is no immediate access to soap and water.

4. Apply restorative creams at the end of the day

An after-work cream is required to effectively restore the skin’s strength and health.

If catering companies take skin care seriously – and invest in training as well as the right equipment – they can effectively tackle the double threat of food poisoning and occupational skin disease. The result will be increased customer confidence as well as safer and healthier employees.

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