Food businesses can minimise the food safety risks in their organisation by making sure all employees practise good hygiene habits. Preventing cross-contamination caused by the clothing a Food Handler wears at work plays a large part in establishing good personal hygiene.
The work attire a Food Handler wears on the job could infect food with biological or physical contaminants if no food safety measures are implemented. Food businesses should create guidelines outlining the proper work attire for Food Handlers, along with all staff, to improve their food safety processes and minimise food safety risks. These guidelines should include work uniform best practices, along with rules for wearing hair restraints, gloves and jewellery while working.
Work uniform best practices
Uniforms and other clothing worn by Food Handlers at work play a vital role in food safety. Food businesses and organisations may have different rules and regulations for their uniforms, but these clothing best practices should always 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.
How to properly use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Food Handlers can use PPE to ensure food is not contaminated with bacteria or viruses from their body. PPE also helps 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.
Some jurisdictions may have specific requirements for using gloves. 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.
Use hair restraints to prevent contamination
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
Keep jewellery to a minimum
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. A wedding band is acceptable to wear but other jewellery should be avoided.
- Never touch jewellery while working with food.
- Train your team on potential food safety hazards from wearing jewellery.
- Ensure all staff follow the organisation’s jewellery rules.
Decrease the food safety risks in your food business by implementing proper procedures for wearing work clothing that is followed by all staff. Keep in mind, however, that practising good personal hygiene involves more than just following proper clothing requirements. Correct hand washing, avoiding handling food when sick and additional workplace behaviours are all factors in minimising food safety risks.
Food businesses and Food Handlers have legal obligations to prevent food contamination and ensure food is prepared safely. Practising proper hygiene plays an integral role in preventing the spread of food-borne illness. To learn more about how to cultivate a safe and hygienic working environment, download the Australian Institute of Food Safety’s (AIFS) Guide to Hygiene and Behaviour in the Workplace.