Maintaining employee health and hygiene in a food facility is not only a standard practice, it is mandated under the Personnel section of the Preventive Controls Rule of the Food Safety Modernization Act (Title 12: Part 117.10). The rule states that management of a covered food facility must take reasonable measures and precautions to ensure disease control and cleanliness, to include:

Disease control. Personnel with diseases or other conditions that could contaminate food are to be excluded from manufacturing operations.

Personal hygiene. For those working in direct contact with food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials:

  • Clothing must protect against allergen cross-contact and contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging materials.
  • Hands must be thoroughly washed before starting work, after each absence from the workstation, and at any other time when the hands may have become soiled or contaminated.
  • Jewelry is to be removed or, if unremovable, covered by material which can be maintained in an intact, clean, and sanitary condition and effectively protect against the contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging.
  • Gloves are to be intact, clean, and sanitary.

Training. Employees must be trained in the principles of food hygiene and food safety, including the importance of employee health and hygiene as appropriate to the food, facility, and individual’s duties. Records of training must be maintained.

The food industry is certainly on the right track as, when combined, more than 90% rank most of the key aspects of personal hygiene as being important (4) or very important (5) practices in their facilities (Figure 4). But it is somewhat concerning to note that only 72% rank shoe/boot sanitation as important or very important and 13% give it little importance, with 5% responding that it has no importance at all. (See page 6 for more on this topic.)

While all respondents also stated that they do have personal hygiene standards, fewer had these standards in writing, except that of handwashing, and even fewer provided employees with any education on or explanation of the “why” behind the established policies (Figure 5).

One area in which we may see some change resulting from the current COVID-19 situation is that of sick leave for floor workers (Figure 6). While most companies do communicate to workers that they should stay home if they are sick, nearly one-third did not provide sick leave for these employees. ?