Whether you are handling food at home, in a hotel, restaurant, sandwich shop, cafeteria or bar, it is important to practise good personal hygiene in order to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses. If you are handling food and touching your mouth, nose, hair or clothes, that will help to spread bacteria or viruses from yourself to the food. This can cause food poisoning. Besides, it makes business sense when your customers notice that your food-handling staff follows food safety rules and good personal hygiene habits.

What are food handlers?

Food handlers are people whose work involves food preparation or coming into contact with food. It can be directly through cooking, serving or packing food or indirectly via storing, delivering and transporting food. Even people who clean or deal with kitchen utensils such as cutlery and food-related furniture are also considered food handlers.

Personal hygiene tips for food handlers

Here are good personal hygiene rules anyone handling food should follow to prevent cases of food poisoning:

Washing hands

• As a food handler, you must wash your hands regularly in order to reduce the possibility of contaminating food with bacteria or viruses. If you do not wash your hands often and properly, especially after preparing raw meat or poultry, you can easily contaminate other foods.

• Begin by wetting your hands with clean, cold or warm running water. Then use soap to wash them thoroughly while making sure that the backs of your hands, areas between your fingers, under your fingernails and wrists, are properly washed.

• Immediately after you wash your hands, use a disposable paper towel or clean towel to wipe them. Also, you can place your hands under an air dryer to dry them. Do not use your clothes or a tea towel to wipe your hands.

Wash your hands after:

• Returning from the toilet
• Handling garbage
• Handling raw food
• Blowing your nose
• Touching your ears, mouth, nose, hair or any bare body parts
• Eating, drinking, smoking, coughing and sneezing
• Handling animals
• Licking fingers
• Changing soiled clothes
• Every break

If you’re wearing disposable gloves, wash your hands as many times as you would if you are not putting on gloves. You need to be changing gloves regularly. Also, make sure to wash and dry your hands before wearing gloves.

Habits to avoid in the food handling area

Habits such as chewing gum, smoking, spitting, sneezing, coughing over food or eating in the food storage or food-handling area are unacceptable. Leave the food area before doing any of the above and wash your hands immediately once you are done before you return there.

What to wear at work

Wear clean protective clothing. You may include an apron. However, do not put on a uniform or apron while outside the food preparation section. Make sure personal items like your spare clothes and mobile phones are not anywhere near the food storage or preparation area. Tie or cover your hair if it is long. Maintain short and clean fingernails and avoid wearing nail polish and jewellery because these harbour bacteria and should not touch food.

How to cover cuts

If you have any cuts and wounds, cover them completely with a waterproof wound strip or bandage. Make sure it is a brightly coloured bandage that is easily spotted in case it comes loose. Also, wear disposable gloves to conceal the wound strip. Change gloves regularly.

Health of food handlers

Food handlers are legally prohibited from handling food if they are ill. So, if you suspect that you are sick, do not go to work because you may contaminate the food you will handle. Also, make sure you advise your supervisor to permit you to stay home until you are well.

Apart from spreading through food, some bacteria and viruses also survive in food for longer periods. Besides, not every illness is a problem for a food handler. Illnesses that should prevent you from working with food include Covid-19, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, flu, and tuberculosis. If you experience symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea, sore throat, stomach cramps or a similar illness, stop handling food immediately. Go home and only return when you are well. If you are not sure, contact your doctor for advice.

According to Australian food safety practices and general requirements, food handlers must have the proper skills and knowledge required for food safety. If you are working or planning to work in a food premises, enrol on one of our food safety online courses at the Australian Institute of Accreditation. We are your go-to training provider to learn food safety practices, personal hygiene and earn a food handling certificate.