In most food processing or food service environments the handling of food is commonplace and often impossible to avoid. Cross-contamination by the transfer of pathogenic or food spoilage organisms can be a significant issue. Hands are one of the most common vehicles for transfer of microorganisms and can become contaminated in several ways.  The lack of hand washing when required and not following a correct hand washing procedure are the most common problems observed.

The skin acts as a barrier and if damaged it will lose its ability to protect, and skin irritation will occur. The irritation can be caused by direct damage to the skin or by sensitisation to a chemical. Everyone will have different levels of resistance to hand care products; most suffering no ill effect while others may suffer skin irritation or even dermatitis. A hand care system which delivers the necessary level of hygiene whilst causing minimum skin irritation is required.

  • Setting the standard

    The first step in the process is to determine the standards of hand washing required via a risk assessment.  This should consider where hand washing facilities are required, when hands need to be washed, what cross contamination routes there may be, training and monitoring. 


    A single hand wash prior to the donning of PPE, followed by a hand sanitiser on entry to the production room is sufficient in most environments, though some retailers may require a second hand wash stage after PPE donning and before entry.  It should be remembered that the point at which a swab is taken only reflects that point in time.  It is important that operatives are aware of the importance of effective and regular hand washing throughout the working shift.

  • Policy

    Each business should have a hygiene policy in place covering all aspects of their provisions for hygiene management.  This should include a section on personal hygiene and hand care.  The policy should also make provisions for contractors, visitors and customers.

  • Facilities

    The quality of the hand care facilities provided by a business will determine the effectiveness of a site’s hand care policy.  The locations of the hand care facilities must be given careful consideration so not to impede existing operations.  Hand care facilities should be provided at entrances and exits to production areas, toilets and any other locations established from the planning phase. 


    The following should then be provided:

    • Sufficient hand wash sinks.
    • The hand wash sinks should be fed with a good volume of warm water (approx. 34-38°C)
    • Operation of the water should be a knee operated valve or automatic sensor
    • Hand wash sinks should be equipped with hand soap dispensers and a suitable drying method
    • Waste bins for used paper towels, preferably foot operated
    • Hand sanitiser dispensers particularly in high care environments
    • Time allowed for all operatives to follow the correct procedure
    • Posters displayed to show correct hand wash procedures
    • Regular refilling of hand soap, disinfectant and towel dispensers


    If a hand sanitiser is needed, then consideration should be given to where the dispensers are located.  To avoid confusion best practice would typically locate the hand sanitiser dispenser after the hand soap dispensers.  Hand washing facilities should be included within the premises cleaning schedule system and cleaned on at least a shift basis.

  • Training

    The training and education of food handlers is one of the most key factors affecting the success of achieving the standards required.  Effective training on hand washing is fundamental to ensure the safe, hygienic and consistent production of food. 


    Operatives should be able to demonstrate knowledge of why, where and when hands should be washed and show correct hand washing procedures.  Assessment of hand care training should demonstrate: the need for hand washing, when to wash hands and how to wash and dry hands.

  • Implementation

    Management play a crucial role in implementing any system and it is key that they set and communicate clearly the policy and set an example as they follow correct hand wash procedures always. 

    A food business should have a disciplinary procedure in place for consistent non-compliance by food handlers on all matters relating to hygiene.  This deterrent will contribute to the successful implementation of the hand hygiene policy.

  • Monitoring

    The constant monitoring of hand care is carried out by management observation of individual washing procedures and or by employing closed circuit television.

    Hand swabbing of operatives is a form of verification alongside CCTV and visual checks will identify personnel skipping or incorrectly washing their hands. 

    Monitoring should also include the quality of hand soap, hand disinfectant, paper towels, cleaning and disinfection of facilities and the quality and temperature of water.  Recording the usage of hand soaps, hand sanitisers and paper towels will also indicate if hand washing is taking place as routinely as it should be. 

  • Review

    The entire hand care system should be reviewed if any changes are made to the changing procedures and at least yearly.  Hand washing is such an important part of any food processing plant.  For the policy to succeed it needs to be continuously, observed, monitored, enforced and reviewed.

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