Don’t let a decline in food hygiene inspections equal poor hand hygiene compliance. By Paul Jakeway

According to new research published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), there has been a dramatic decline in food hygiene inspections in the UK. Between 2003 and 2014 there has been a 15 per cent drop in inspections handled by local authorities1, with budget cuts and falling staff levels to blame.

However, food service establishments must not get complacent and let hygiene standards slip in the wake of these new findings. It is crucial that health and safety managers continue to implement effective hygiene practices in the workplace, because even if the threat of being inspected is minimised, customer’s health and wellbeing must remain of paramount importance.

Despite inspection numbers falling, there remains a worryingly high amount of food service establishments, which are not adhering to recommended hygiene practices. According to a second study by the FSA in 2005, 13 per cent of 5000 food service premises inspected failed to comply with statutory hygiene obligations, and a further 46 per cent of premises demonstrated some non-compliance2. This can only mean that there are many more food establishments that are also being non-compliant, but are able to slip under the radar due to the decline in inspection numbers.

Food service inspections are carried out by local authorities and are rated on a scale from 0-5. The grading is based on how the food is prepared and cooked, as well as the condition of the building and what management is doing to ensure that the food served is indeed safe.

Hand washing
It has been estimated that 5.5 million people in the UK are affected by food poisoning each year3, primarily due to inadequate hand hygiene facilities being provided. Shockingly, 39 per cent of food service employees have admitted to not washing their hands after visiting the toilet, and 53 per cent confessed that they do not wash their hands before preparing food4. Failing to adhere to hand hygiene best practice places the customer at a direct risk of contracting food poisoning, and can have a damaging effect on food service establishments too. It has the potential to lead to a loss of profit, poor company reputation and even compensation payouts or closure.

Whatever the food establishment, its goals will be to maintain profit margins and an impeccable reputation, and investing in hand hygiene procedures will help achieve both of those goals. Firstly, it is crucial that employees are aware of the critical handwashing points, such as before and after visiting the toilet, after touching raw meat or any equipment that has touched raw meat, and before touching food. Employers must facilitate this regimented hand washing process by providing employees with the appropriate hand cleansers, sanitisers and dispensers at critical points in the workplace to encourage regular hand washing.

Ensuring that employees are in keeping with hand hygiene regulations will ensure that food service establishments meet inspection criteria, but to have a happy, skin-healthy workforce, it is also recommended to provide staff with pre-work protection and after-work restorative hand creams. The hands are regularly exposed to a range of threats at the workplace, which could lead to employees developing an occupational skin disease.

In food and catering workplaces, chefs, waitresses, catering assistants and cleaners are likely to come into prolonged contact with potential skin irritants such as water, soap and detergents; which cause around 55 per cent of occupational skin diseases at the workplace5. However, occupational skin disease is something that can be easily prevented if the right skin care creams are used. A pre-work cream should be used before employees come into contact with any potential irritants, creating a protective layer over the skin to prevent hazardous substances from reaching the skin. An after-work cream should be used after employees come into contact with potential irritants, and works to restore, recondition and moisturise the skin. This prevents the skin from becoming dry and chapped; a common predecessor of occupational skin disease.

Ultimately, even if the number of UK food service inspections continues to decline, as health and safety managers in food establishments, it is pivotal that the welfare of customers and employees remain a priority. Providing a comprehensive and cost-effective hand hygiene system that is fit-for-purpose will ensure that your food establishment is leading by example, all year round.

1, 2, 4 Food Standards Agency (FSA)
3 The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC)
5 Health and Safety Executive

Paul JakewayPaul Jakeway is marketing director at Deb. For over 80 years, Deb Group has been establishing skin care regimes for all types of workplace and public environments, spanning industrial, automotive, healthcare, commercial, hotels, restaurants, catering and leisure, food manufacturing and retail sectors. Deb comprises 21 companies operating in 16 countries, with Deb products sold in over 100 countries.