Keeping Your Team Safe from Food Safety Pathogens
With the explosive growth in the spread of Norovirus and other food safety pathogens, the role of the team lead or manager in the food chain supply and logistics field has expanded to cover personnel hygiene. From the plant operations manager to the manager at the corner market or sandwich shop, keeping your team healthy by training them in hygienic practices not only protects your team from foodborne illness, but also protects the general public, too.
Common Food Safety Pathogens
Known simply as "food poisoning," common food safety pathogens are a diverse and nasty bunch, and they sure do get around. They may be among the most underreported of all illnesses because most people chalk it up to a "stomach bug" or "just something I ate." Many people who have a foodborne illness may never seek medical attention at all and instead stay at home to be cared for by family members or self-treat with their grandmother's remedies. According to Iowa State University, the most common "food poisoning" pathogens are:
- Bacillus cereus
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Clostridium botulinum
- Clostridium perfringens
- Cryptosporidium parvum
- Escherichia coli 0157:H7
- Giardia lamblia
- Hepatitis A
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Toxoplasma gondii
The symptoms of these illnesses often make them indistinguishable from one another, with nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, with or without fever, affecting most people who contract them. The infected person may only discover the root cause of their illness if the symptoms are severe enough to require a visit to the local emergency room. As you read through the above list, keep in mind that almost all can be prevented by two things: proper preparation of food and worker hygiene, including hand washing.
Train Your Team to Stop the Spread of Food Safety Pathogens
The team lead or manager should follow these employee hygiene steps to protect their team and the public.
- Disease Control: Any team member who 1) appears to be ill and is observed to be demonstrably ill or have open wounds, lesions, sores, boils or abscesses and, 2) will be in contact with food, food preparation areas, food packaging areas or service areas should be excluded from all such activities until management is advised by a medical professional that the condition is corrected and the window of contagion has passed.
- Training: Managers and team leads need a level of education and experience in safe food handling and food protection principles so that they may instruct their teams in proper food prep hygiene and personal hygienic practices.
- Gear Maintenance: Make sure that gloves, footwear, face protection, hair coverings and outerwear are clean, in good condition and that they are cleaned before they are worn when coming into contact with food, preparation surfaces and equipment, packaging and service areas.
- Facilities Maintenance: Make sure that the facility is clean, that food preparation areas and equipment are sanitized after each use, and packaging and service areas are sanitary. Management must also ensure that these areas and equipment are not contaminated by hair, sweat, cosmetics, topical medicines, tobacco or allergens – that means no eating peanuts on the job if it’s not a listed ingredient! Remember, surfaces must be first deemed cleanable — raw or unpainted wood is very porous and not considered cleanable by FDA standards.
- Worker Hygiene Practices: Make sure that workers store personal belongings away from work areas, remove hand and wrist jewelry before starting work, wash hands before starting or resuming work, or when returning from the toilet, and that work gear is worn as specified at all times.
The CDC estimates that one person in six will experience a foodborne illness this year, and that 128,000 will have an illness of such severity that hospitalization will be required. It is further estimated that around 3,000 people will die from the effects of a foodborne illness. Breaking the chain of contagion early can help protect your team at work and their families at home.