The Wash Podcast: Hand Hygiene 101 in Food Processing

Welcome to The Wash, your trusted resource for the latest and greatest in public health and hygiene, where we will tackle topics like hand hygiene, best practices in footwear sanitization, creating an employee hygiene program, and more!

On today’s episode, we invite Meritech COO Paul Barnhill to help listeners understand the importance of hand hygiene in food processing, the pitfalls of traditional sinks, and how to prevent a recall in your facility. Mr. Barnhill goes into detail explaining the differences between manual and automated hand washing and provides solutions for overcoming the greatest source of risk in achieving proper hygiene: the variability of human behavior in complying with SOPs.

You can listen to the podcast using the media player or read the podcast transcript below: 


Podcast Transcript: Hand Hygiene 101 in Food Processing 

Jennifer Taylor: Hello, and welcome to The Wash: your trusted resource for the latest and greatest in public health and hygiene. This podcast is brought to you by Meritech, the leader in automated hygiene technology. I'm your host, Jennifer Taylor, and to kickoff our first episode, I am pleased to introduce you to a very special guest, Paul Barnhill, Chief Operations Officer here at Meritech, and Head Engineer. Paul, thanks for joining us today!

Paul Barnhill: Thanks for having me!

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah. We're very excited to be discussing with you the differences between common hand hygiene methodologies in food processing. So, a little bit of hand hygiene 101.

Paul Barnhill: That's my favorite topic.

Jennifer Taylor: I hear you're very passionate about it.

Paul Barnhill: I love hand hygiene.

Jennifer Taylor: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Paul Barnhill: I've been an industrial designer for about 33 years working for various companies, designing technologies to work in either the medical device space, or basically what we're doing here at Meritech, is the same thing, a medical device, or hygiene products. I've been doing that for about 27 years.

Jennifer Taylor: Fantastic. That is impressive.

Paul Barnhill: Well, I enjoy it.

Jennifer Taylor: Yes. So in that time, what have you been focusing on, in terms of industrial development?

Paul Barnhill: One of the things that we focused on is trying to make sure that the hygiene equipment that we make is really user friendly, and focused around the person, at the same time giving you a scientific process as quickly as we possibly can, to really bridge that human behavioral gap.

Jennifer Taylor: Okay. Why is bridging that human behavioral gap, why has this been a passion for you?

Paul Barnhill: I remember when I was a young kid, and my mother and my grandmother, every time I would come from outside would say, "You need to wash your hands," and that really stuck with me. Then when I got the opportunity to come work here in '91, it was like, "Okay. I can relate to exactly what that means," we're trying to take care of people's health and safety. And we knew this from what our parents and grandparents used to tell us all the time. So, that is what is kind of passionate for me about this.

Jennifer Taylor: Right, okay. Talking about hand hygiene, let's take a step back and really define what that means, and why it's so important. How would you describe hand hygiene?

Paul Barnhill: Hand hygiene is a process of reducing the microbial flora, or load of pathogens that are on your hands, so that you can be living in a community and not be surrounded by constant pathogens that you're sharing with each other.

Jennifer Taylor: Okay.

Paul Barnhill: So the goal of that is to make a quality hand hygiene event simple and easy.

Jennifer Taylor: Right, ultimately preventing the spread of infection.

Paul Barnhill: Yes.

Jennifer Taylor: Right. Okay. It's more important today than it ever has been. A recent research article that came out, that I have in my notes here, researchers in London estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands properly, a million deaths a year could be prevented.

Paul Barnhill: That is a really, really big number, and I'm not really familiar with that report directly, but what I can say is something that you hear every time there is any type of a global outbreak. The CDC is very clear saying, "The most important thing you can do to reduce infections is to wash your hands," and we need to keep that in mind. So, that is that key aspect, as we become more and more of a global society, we have to focus on this aspect of making sure that we are doing just general, routine, proper hygiene, as we become more mobile throughout the entire world.

Jennifer Taylor: How is the environment evolving to overcome these hygiene-in-public health challenges today, in your opinion?

Paul Barnhill: The environment is changing. People are aware of it. The media, every time there is some type of outbreak, concern, so forth, it is known that we need to do a better job of washing our hands, and we have things that are important to us, that we use. We have traditional sinks, we have automated sinks, we have automated hand washers, and we have instant hand sanitizer. All of these are parts of the environment that we use to attack this problem.

Jennifer Taylor: Right. You know, we've seen a slew of regulatory changes in the last five to ten years roll out to increase compliance and focus on hand hygiene events. One of those being FSMA in 2011, which really upped the ante on the level of focus that our food processes are lending to a variety of food safety related controls, but one of those being proper employee hygiene as well, and that being a part of your prerequisite program to your HACCP plan.

Paul Barnhill: As we, again, back in our food manufacturing world, and yes, FSMA has been an absolute work in progress for a lot of years, and it's good to see that it's coming to completion, and being implemented the way it is being implemented. It's value added that we're paying so much more attention to the human aspect of making sure that people are washing their hands, plans for doing their due diligence. It's not just providing a sink and letting it be there, that people are doing it, but they're putting ownership into that. So, that's quality for what we're doing.

Jennifer Taylor: It's good timing, as well. In the last few years, we've seen more and more food safety related product recalls published in the media. In fact, in 2018, that was the highest volume recorded yet, with 382 food product recalls. What is your observation on this higher propensity of these product recalls, and what they mean for us as a society? What's happening here?

Paul Barnhill: What's happening is, we're actually producing more and more food. We have more and more people, so we have to produce more and more food. We're producing food faster. We are doing all these things, and our awareness is greater. So, all these things lend into this 382 food recalls last year. I mean, I think romaine lettuce actually, in 2018, had two separate recalls, specifically for that.

I think our awareness is better. I think the way we're detecting a recall and acting on a recall is better. We are, as a society, are doing better at acknowledging that. But again, it's all these environmental challenges. It's not just hygiene that's an issue. It could be mislabeling. It could be contamination inside the product. There are numerous reasons to have a recall. Even if it's suspected, and it may be proven later that it isn't, it will be put into that bucket as a recall.

Jennifer Taylor: Right. So really, it being a function of increased volume of production, and increased awareness on ensuring food safety and increasing the measures focused on controlling for that cross-contamination.

Paul Barnhill: Yes, that's correct.

Jennifer Taylor: Right. In your opinion, then, what is the state of hand hygiene today? We're making these steps forward. We're increasing our awareness of how effectively we're ensuring hand hygiene. Have we reached our goal, I guess, in terms of hand hygiene success, or do we have room to improve?

Paul Barnhill: I think the state of hand hygiene today is that it's good, but there is lots and lots of room for improvement within hand hygiene that we have, and can go in, in the future. There are technologies that, even Meritech today, is working on to help improve that process, to help improve on those data points, and help make for a better experience. So, there's plenty of room to improve. Even though you may think you have the best device in the world, there's always ways to always improve it, in time.

Jennifer Taylor: Right. Of course. That ever endeavoring for excellence.

Paul Barnhill: Yes.

Jennifer Taylor: Of course. So, given that though, we have these options for traditional sinks. We have automated systems, semi-automated system, hand sanitizers, but how effective are we, as people, in maintaining proper hygiene? What are the typical hand washing behaviors versus, maybe, the recommended hand wash procedures?

Paul Barnhill: That's always a good point, is people like, "Well, you know, proper hand hygiene should really take about 30 to 40 seconds, if you're doing it correctly." It depends on the person, it depends on their own ownership or behavior. This is still going to be always a human aspect that we have to bridge.

So, when you have a traditional product, like a traditional sink, or a semi-automated hand washing, it really is up to the person. And sometimes they don't really have sense of time to realize how long is it to do a full rubbing of your hands together, and lathering up from 20 seconds. That's a long period of time. So, we've deployed things like sing Happy Birthday twice, and so forth. Those are good methodologies. They last for a little bit of time, but then you have to kind of go back and retrain, and reeducate to get people to kind of think through that process.

We have automated hand washing that bridges that entire gap, does it quicker, faster, the same for every single user. And then you have a little bit of a challenge more, a necessary part, but you have instant hand sanitizers. They have their own challenges as well.

The challenge being that you're not always able to remove something. You're relying solely on kill of that, and then you still leave being that residual effect that you may not necessarily like. But, they are a necessity when you're in areas where you may not have water, or access to water.

Jennifer Taylor: Okay, that's a great consideration to call out. But really, I'm still thinking on that 30 seconds you just mentioned, and thinking about just average human day-to-day behavior. You go into a restroom, really anywhere, at a restaurant, an airport, and it's unlikely that individuals are standing at a sink washing and scrubbing their hands for 30 seconds. So, in that way, in terms of the state hand hygiene today, or how effective we are as people in maintaining proper hand hygiene, it seems like there is a gap, in terms of human behavior, that we need to educate, reinforce, and address.

Paul Barnhill: There is. One of the things you'll see, and you'll notice is, I always notice is, when I'm at airports and I'm in the restroom, and I'm washing my hands, you'll always see that person come in and go, that never washes, okay? Yeah, scary.

Jennifer Taylor: Yeah.

Paul Barnhill: Then you see that person come in, and they do the quick splash of water, and then they're gone, and like, it's improved, but not really where we need to be. Then you have that other individual, he gets a little bit of soap. He'll give you that three to five seconds. That's actually what most people do. They'll give you three to five seconds of rubbing. They have a little pre-rinse, a little post-rinse, and then out they go. Me, when I'm doing that, I actually sit there, and kind of try to follow the protocols I've developed for myself of saying, "Yeah. I'm gonna do this for 20 seconds." This also gives me an opportunity while I'm washing my hands to observe other people's, and what those behaviors are.

So, the average becomes that three to five, and when it comes to things like food manufacturing, that's a risk factor back to a product. That's a risk factor back to the workforce, and so forth. Those are things that have to be considered, but what's different about it, always, when it comes to traditional hand hygiene, depends on if somebody's watching, or if that behavior is being policed, are they going to do a proper hand hygiene event?

Jennifer Taylor: Absolutely, and it seems as though, if we don't access to a fully automated method to ensure that consistency, and there is not someone, as there are not in many restrooms, or environments, someone there to watch and make sure, and ensure that compliance, we must become our own self-policing mechanism to ensure that, that 30 second hand wash is occurring, which, when you consider that the majority of individuals are probably conducting a three to five second hand wash, and we need to amplify that by 300%, and we need to get to 30 seconds, that's behavior change. That's pretty significant behavior change.

Paul Barnhill: It is. When you boil it down into manufacturing, some places, yeah. They'll police behavior. Other places, they don't. When they're saying, "Oh, we're gonna do checking and studying of the efficacy of this manual process," everybody, when they're being policed, is doing a good job. But that's not reality. So, it's a matter of leadership within these plants, taking ownership of that.

Jennifer Taylor: Right. Okay, it comes from the top down?

Paul Barnhill: Top down.

Jennifer Taylor: So, what happens if we don't wash that long? If we are clocking in at three to five seconds, and then we go on our merry way, what's happening on our hands?

Paul Barnhill: The challenge is, is that you may not actually have enough time to actually remove something, or allow the antimicrobial soap, if you're using one, to be actually able to kill the pathogen. Keep in mind, there's always some dwell time with any type of sanitizers, or antimicrobials, to be able to attack the cell wall, either rupture the cell wall and kill it, or the amount of water used to help then remove it. Mechanical behaviors help some, but again, in three to five seconds, you cannot really get 100% of your hand, so you're not going to do a great job. Even though you think you did a great job, they look clean, but reality, everything that we're focused on, you can't see anyway. Unless it's visible dirt, we're trying to look at pathogens, so we're going after stuff we can't see.

Jennifer Taylor: And what happens when one of those pairs of hands that hasn't been properly washed, leaves the area? You know, we touched that door handle, we used that hand dryer, let's talk about that.

Paul Barnhill: I mean, again, I'm going to go back to what I said earlier, we are becoming a very, very global society, and all of a sudden, we are taking our pathogens, and we're spreading those pathogens. There are so many touch points in the world today. One of the dirtiest objects that we ever touch is actually something that's connected to our hip at all times. That is our cell phones. No one cleans their cell phones the way they should, but understand, there is not a surface on that phone that they don't touch. And it's like, "Here. Let me show you my friend's photos," and they touch it, and so forth.

So, we're spreading pathogens that way. We need to do a better job. There are so many touch points. You got the handrails going up and down the stairs, you've got escalators, you've got door knobs, and buttons in elevators. There are so many touch points, even when we touch each other, and shake hands as a greeting and a gesture, we're passing on those pathogens. So, we have our own due diligence to do to make sure that we do a good job.

Jennifer Taylor: Absolutely. It sounds like, given that, we have all of these touch points that the average person does not wash their hands properly, or for the proper amount of time. It seems as though the state of hand hygiene today, we have a lot of room to improve.

Paul Barnhill: We do.

Jennifer Taylor: So, let's break down what is happening when we wash our hands properly on a microscopic level. You talked previously, or you mentioned, transient and resident pathogens. Let's talk about the relationship between those items.

Paul Barnhill: On your hands, because first of all, the skin is the largest organ of your body, it's actually super valuable for us. It helps keep us hydrated, it keeps us protected from the environment and so forth. There's actually what is called resident flora. We'll call them resident pathogens, that live on your skin. They live in the multiple layers of your skin. Your skin is a little bit acidic. It's around that pH level of five that helps fight off other transient pathogens.

Now, the transient pathogens are those other things that we pick up, and that we're sharing with everybody else. Somebody else didn't wash their hands properly, I'm picking it up from a door knob, and so forth, and so on. That's really what we need to focus on. 90 to 95% of our resident pathogens are really inert. They don't really affect us, but we want to make sure that we're keeping them in check, and in control. Your transient pathogens, we need to remove them, either by killing that pathogen, or removing it from the skin without damaging the skin.

Jennifer Taylor: Thank you for that. I think that's something that those of us who do not have experience and expertise in microbiology aren't always thinking about, that there are some forms of pathogens and bacteria that are friendly to our bodies, that we want to keep and maintain healthy. It's really these transient pathogens that are more travelers to and from, that we want to address and remove.

Paul Barnhill: Correct, because, again, to have really good hand hygiene, you cannot separate out good skin health. If you're constantly using a product, and let's say you're using something that's damaging to the skin all the time, and you're never breaking the cycle, let's say instant sanitizers. Instant sanitizers, again, are not removing something. They're only designed to kill, if it's capable of killing that pathogen. But that's very drying to the skin in time. If you keep the skin, becomes too dry, and doesn't retain enough moisture, you may be susceptible to more pathogens, and greater growth.

Jennifer Taylor: So, in terms of creating a hand hygiene program within an organization, or a facility, that should be taken into account, the frequency of usage, and what impacts that might have on employee hands, because it sounds like that would also would have an impact, in terms of long term compliance. Obviously, if a method was uncomfortable for an employee, and resulted in dry and chafing hands, then there could be a decrease a dipping compliance.

Paul Barnhill: Oh, there absolutely will be. You actually nailed this right on the top of it, because the simple fact is, is that, when somebody's hands become irritated, chafed, dry, uncomfortable, they're going to decrease their hand hygiene compliance. That is very difficult. A hand hygiene structure needs to be so that you're protecting the skin, you're washing it correctly, you're not over-scrubbing, you're not over-drying it, you're not using too many unnecessary lotions and dyes and fragrances that are going to include the skin, to allow it be healthy and safe.

So, yeah. When you create a program of hand hygiene, it depends on what your environment is. So, for example, when we go in and consult to a plant, and let's say this plant has a heavy use of soils and debris. If you have heavy soils and debris that are going to be deposited on the hands, we will recommend to that person to wear a glove. The advantage of that is, is that, if they weren't wearing a glove that they can pull off and dispose of that in a trash can, their hands are going to be caked with that. So, what do they have to do? They have to do some type of aggressive mechanical removal with a brush. There's nothing more damaging to the skin cells than attacking it with a brush to get rid of that. They become chafed, irritated, hard in time, and she'll have more pathogens in time, and still wash less.

Jennifer Taylor: Gotcha. So, you had mentioned previously, in terms of considering what methods are available, if you're a food processing facility, you had mentioned sanitizers, semi-automated sinks, traditional sinks. We know here at Meritech, of fully-automated hand washing systems, as well. Let's review those methods, and compare them. What are the pros and cons of these?

Paul Barnhill: Let's start with the simplest one, what we've all be exposed with since we were little kids, and that was just a traditional sink. You have basically a facet in front of you. You have a hot water knob, you have a cold water knob, you have some type of either liquid or some type of hand soap that you use. And the process is, you turn on the knobs, you're supposed to wet your hands, you're supposed to get some soap, lather for a period of 20 seconds. You take a few more seconds to then rinse your hands, and then you dry them off in whatever method you have.

That is your traditional. But most people get in a challenge with that is, is that you have a lot of touch points. You're touching handles, knobs, soap dispensers. Do I take the time to do a good enough job to wash? Have I thoroughly done that for that 20 seconds? And then, what do you do with that water? So, a traditional sink, that water is running the whole time. That's really wasteful.

Jennifer Taylor: Right.

Paul Barnhill: Now, you go to the automated facets and automated sinks. Those are a little bit better, but they have their challenges, themselves. You have a photoelectric sink that you turn, that you kind of wave your hands back and forth, and you hope it turns on. We've all experienced that at the airport.

Jennifer Taylor: The dance.

Paul Barnhill: The dance-

Jennifer Taylor: The trying to get that photoeye

Paul Barnhill: I call it the hand dance, and you're trying to get it, and then you've got the little automated dispenser to give you soap, and you're going under it a few times, and then finally, you pull your hand away, then it dispenses.

Jennifer Taylor: Right, always.

Paul Barnhill: So, let's bridge the gap, let's say it's all working correctly, and you finally get some soap that's on your hand, and you get a little bit of water coming out of the facet. Again, same process. It's up to me. I'm doing it manually. I've got to make sure that I'm paying attention to my 20 seconds, singing my birthday song twice to make sure I do that.

One of my challenges with automated sinks is that, the water flow is so low anymore, that you're not able to have enough water to actually remove both the suds, as well as any pathogens in that process. That's a risk factor of not having adequate water flow.

Jennifer Taylor: That's so interesting because those kinds of low flow sinks are always presented as a great eco-friendly option. They're sustainable, they use less water. But they could actually pose a hand hygiene risk.

Paul Barnhill: Yeah. There's a big difference between, "Yes, it's low flow, and yes, it's good for the environment, but did I also have enough water to remove that pathogen? I don't necessarily want to kill it. I'm okay with just removing it." So, that's always a risk factor. And that's something that's not been talked a lot about in the industry, but that's one of the things that we work on, is making sure that whenever we use automated hand washing, 100% of the water is used to wash your hands. There is zero waste. Nothing goes down the drain that hasn't touched your hand.

Jennifer Taylor: That's fascinated. So, I know about our technology, that we use less water. So, you know, might on the surface, consider semi-automated sinks and our systems being similar, in that they use less water.

Paul Barnhill: Correct.

Jennifer Taylor: But, we utilize that water differently. Can you go into detail about how Meritech's fully-automated hand washing systems utilize that water to maximize its effect in the hand washing process?

Paul Barnhill: Yeah. In the automated process, it's really simple. The whole event is 12 seconds, and in that 12 seconds we use roughly six-tenths of a gallon of water. We're going to rinse, we're going to wash and sanitize, and we're going to give you a post-rinse. Every bit of that water is touching your hands during that whole length of cycle, so nothing is being missed.

There are nozzles are your wrist. Those are blocker nozzles. There's another eight nozzles in a helical pattern that are designed to circle your hand, because that cylinder that's washing your hand is going around your hand 23 times in that 12 second cycle, that's to be able to wash it. And then we dedicate four nozzles directly to your fingertips and fingernails, and everybody goes, "Oh, are you getting under the nails?" Well, it's really hard to get it under your nails because even when you're washing traditionally, there's no way to get under your nails. I also don't pick up anything from under my nails. I always pick up everything with my fingertips.

Jennifer Taylor: Right. I'm just getting kind of a visual picture of what you're describing, and I know our listeners will be doing the same. So, your hands in a fully automated hand washing system from Meritech, are placed with these cylinders that have jets that, as the cylinders rotate, deploy that water and soap evenly across the areas of the hands.

Paul Barnhill: Correct. 100% coverage, very quickly. It's basically, as I call it, we call it six seconds of washing, six seconds of rinsing.

Jennifer Taylor: Oh, fascinating.

Paul Barnhill: Simple and easy.

Jennifer Taylor: Simple and easy.

Paul Barnhill: Yep.

Jennifer Taylor: Yep, and we discussed earlier the importance of it being simple and easy, in terms of compliance and validation.

Paul Barnhill: Compliance, validation, and again, addressing the concerns of behavior.

Jennifer Taylor: Right. So, validation, that's a great point, too. How did we arrive at the 12 seconds, and how have we clinically validated the effectiveness of these machines?

Paul Barnhill: Well, we've actually used independent laboratories that focus their attention on topical antimicrobials and the science of hands. The laboratories that we have used, what we do is, we actually apply a true pathogen to the skin. We look at a baseline of that. We follow an ASTM standard, and then we wash hands, and remove that. And we do that for a period of time. We call it the "glove juice procedure," and what that does is look at what that is. And we're always given a net result of a mean average of three to four log, which is 99.9% to 99.99% removal of a pathogen.

Jennifer Taylor: Incredibly effective, three to four logs, consistently?

Paul Barnhill: Yes.

Jennifer Taylor: Consistently, across these tests.

Paul Barnhill: On human skin, that's really, really good, because that's always difficult.

Jennifer Taylor: Can we describe briefly, what is the glove juice procedure? What does that entail?

Paul Barnhill: The glove juice procedure is really basically, where you're actually taking about five millo pathogen, you're actually applying it to the skin. Let's say an E. coli or a Serratia marcescens. You're rubbing it into the skin, allowing it to dry. You then, at that point, once that's dried on there, you actually go put on what is called a sterile surgical glove. It's an oversized glove. And then, what you pour inside that is basically a wicking fluid. We'll put a tourniquet at the top of that glove.

Then, for exactly one minute, you will take this wicking fluid with your hand inside it, and you will literally rub this hand all over the place, inside this glove with this wicking fluid, that then pulls these pathogens directly back off that hand, puts it into the liquid. We then, we pipet out of that. We'll put it into a Petri dish, incubate it, then we'll count the number of CFUs, or colony forming units to find out how many pathogens are really on there. That will become now, our baseline.

Then we go do this. We're going to go do this now, several more times. We actually do 10 hand washes when we do this. We actually will make sure on hand wash number one, hand wash number five, and hand wash number ten, to get our statistical mean averages of what we're reducing for pathogens on the hand in a very controlled, lab environment.

Jennifer Taylor: Fantastic. So, it sounds like it's a very objective assessment of how these machines are performing on some of our most harmful pathogens in application, as it would be in a food processing facility.

Paul Barnhill: Exactly. Food processing facility, restaurant front of house, back of house, medical institutions, all the same.

Jennifer Taylor: All right, very interesting. With the methodology like this, that's unique and different from the traditional ones that we grew up with, with our mothers and grandmothers, and using it in these facilities where we're producing food and medicine, going directly into consumer's bodies, guaranteeing that effectiveness is of the utmost importance.

Paul Barnhill: Agreed.

Jennifer Taylor: So, what are the types of questions that a food processing leader, when they're looking at their hygiene zones and considering the methods that they might implement within their facility, what questions should they be asking when comparing these methodologies to make the best decision?

Paul Barnhill: When you're looking at the flow of people coming into your plant, first and foremost, what is it you do in that plant? Are you a gloved product, or an ungloved product? So, you have to look at that. "Am I dealing with a ready-to-eat product, or am I dealing with something that needs to be further cooked?"

These are factors you look at when you're looking at one, your staff load. So that's a concern. "How many staff do I have? Do I have enough area to put in a traditional sink versus an automated hand washer?" Depends on what your staff load is. Depends on what your dawn period of time is for them to get in the plant. These are all factors that have to be looked at. Also, you have to look at this in regard to, what are the overall PPE requirements for these individuals coming in? What is that piece going to look like for their hand hygiene facts?

Traditional hand hygiene, if you have high throughput areas, tend to be two thirds longer than automated washing, so you lose a lot of employee time, and if you have a small area and large turnovers of people, meaning shift change that is large, you get a bottleneck. What happens during a bottleneck? Out of sight, out of mind. People kind of shoot through the system and they miss hand hygiene all together.

One of the goals at any food manufacturing, or plant manager, or sanitarian has to look at is, "What are my choke points? What are my control points for my people, and what is my behaviors of them coming in?"

Jennifer Taylor: And, "How am I going to validate this procedure?"

Paul Barnhill: Oh, that's always the challenge.

Jennifer Taylor: Right.

Paul Barnhill: How do you validate a traditional hand wash? There's only one way. You have to police the behavior.

Jennifer Taylor: So, what are some of the challenges that food processing leaders face today in policing that behavior?

Paul Barnhill: No one feels like they need to be policed. I mean, we all see it. Every time we're speeding down the highway, we see that cop, we slow it down, and we're like, "Oh, man. I just don't want to get a ticket today."

You know, it's achieving its net result. Same thing in hand hygiene. All of a sudden, you have that one person that circumvents the system, and then all of a sudden, you have now, somebody watching you to make sure that you're doing a good job. The goal of this is that, an owner, an operator, a plant manager has ownership of hygiene, making sure that both the staff are aware of this, and how important hygiene is to them coming into their facility.

One of the challenges these plant managers and owners, and operation sanitarians have is the diverse work culture that we have currently in food manufacturing. We will have several different languages spoken, several people coming from other areas of the world that don't necessarily have the same hygiene practices. These are challenges we have. One of the reasons that Meritech has strived to do what it does is to make that human behavioral gap all visual, simple, and easy. I can show you how to wash your hands in 10 seconds, and you'll never have to be shown that again.

To where, traditional hand washing, you go through an education process, you get a ramp up of people washing their hands correctly for a period of time, and then that decreases in time. So what do you do? You repeat the scenario, and you get an increase in hand hygiene again. That's a time that we don't have for. We are very busy in the working world today, and everything that we can do to save time, effort, and energy, is somewhere you need to invest in, because your people are your most important part of what you do.

Jennifer Taylor: Absolutely. I 100% could not agree more. You had just mentioned the variability in the spikes and the dips, the kind of peaks and valleys of that compliance. Can a food processing facility reliably have comfort or confidence in their PRP,  if they know that there are dips and valleys, in terms of compliance? At any given time, you could have employees entering production zones that are not meeting your critical control criteria.

Paul Barnhill: Exactly. Again, back to a traditional sink, even an automated sink won't actually give you any data to tell you what your count is. How many people are washing? How do you validate that back into it? Again, put up cameras, watch people, police them? That doesn't work.

What we do on all of our automated technologies, we actually have a counter on every single one. It's very simple. Every single hand wash generates a cycle. You can compare those numbers to your staff load. For example, you have 100 staff, the minimum number of events you should have in a day for per staff member is five. That's just the traditional number of hand hygiene events. So, you should have cycles that reach that 500 load every single day.

Once they reach that, and you can look at that comparable data, a QA operator or sanitarian can take that data and tie that back into their own SSOPs, or their HACCP plans and say, "Yes. This is a way we validate our compliance to hand hygiene." That is really key in creating a total quality scenario for any organization.

Jennifer Taylor: Just making hand hygiene effective, easy, and documentable.

Paul Barnhill: Absolutely.

Jennifer Taylor: Absolutely. So, as we move forward, and emerging trends are occurring all the time, the technology is changing, regulatory restrictions are evolving constantly, what in your opinion, are the emerging trends in hand hygiene technology that we should be on the lookout for?

Paul Barnhill: There's been so many evolutions of hand hygiene and monitoring of hand hygiene over the years, it is still going to become more and more apparent, again, as we're changing as a society. Having data at your fingertips is really, really key, and hygiene is no different. There are technologies that are being worked on to give you better understanding of what the hygiene challenges are.

Knowing an employee maybe went from a dirty zone then back into a clean zone, did they have an event? Did they have a hygiene event? This is data that I can say for a fact that we are currently working on, to make better, and to give the future of our sanitarians, QA people, plant managers, data points that they can use easier, readily available, so they know exactly what is that part of their total quality package for hygiene.

Jennifer Taylor: More real time insight into how they're performing.

Paul Barnhill: Absolutely. We all expect it now. We want data now. We can go look it up.

Jennifer Taylor: Absolutely. Cool. So it sounds like here in the near future we'll have more technology available to provide real-time hand hygiene insights?

Paul Barnhill: Exactly.

Jennifer Taylor: So that we can address any sort of risk or cross-contamination before it emerges into a full-out recall?

Paul Barnhill: Exactly. I mean again, hand hygiene is one part of that, but it's a big part because it's a really, it's an unknown variable that is the human aspect that we have to look at.

Jennifer Taylor: Fascinating! Well, Paul, those are all my questions today. I appreciate your time on the podcast, and I look forward to hearing the viewers questions. We'll be including links to the studies that we mentioned, as well as videos of the glove juice procedure in the comments, in the description of the podcast episode, so feel free to like, share, and let us know what you enjoyed the best!

Paul Barnhill: Thanks for having me!

Jennifer Taylor: Thank you!

This podcast is brought to you by Meritech, the leader in automated employee hygiene. Meritech offers a complete line of fully-automated handwashing, boot scrubbing, and footwear sanitizing equipment that provides the only clinically-validated, technology-based approach to human hygiene in the world. Meritech’s line of CleanTech® systems performs a fully-automated 12-second hand wash, sanitize and rinse cycle, removing over 99.9% of dangerous pathogens while wasting zero water or solution. Meritech delivers employee hygiene, contamination control, and infection prevention programs within a wide variety of markets, including food production, food service, cleanroom, healthcare, medical, theme parks, and cruise lines. For more information, visit or call 303-790-4670.

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