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Food Handler Hygiene Screen

Food Handler Hygiene Screening All food business operators have a responsibility to manage food safety risks, thereby protecting the consumer.

They are required by law to put systems and practices in place to ensure that food provided to the consumer is safe, and that it does not become a vehicle in the transmission of communicable disease.

Food Handler

Risk factors are:

  • Unsafe sources
  • inadequate cooking
  • improper holding
  • contaminated equipment
  • poor personal hygiene


The food handler dimension is crucially important in reducing the risk of foodborne illness.

A food handler is any person involved in a food business who handles food in the course of their work.

The term food Handler also includes anyone who may touch food contact surfaces. This is because they can also contaminate food by spreading bacteria onto work tops and food packaging. They can also contaminate door handles and hand rails, which can then contaminate the hands of people who handle food directly.

The term food Handler can therefore apply to supervisors, managers, cleaners, maintenance contractors and inspectors. It is the effect of their presence in the food handling areas that is important not their job descriptions.

Food handlers whose work involves handling unwrapped food to be consumed raw or without further cooking or other forms of treatmenthave been identified as constituting the high-risk food handler group.

Risk to Consumer Health

Food Handlers who work around open food while suffering from certain infections (mainly from bacteria and viruses) can contaminate the food or work surfaces that the food may come into contact with. This can spread infection to the end consumer through the food.

Legislation

Individual businesses and food handlers have legal obligations related to the need to avoid contamination of food. The relevant legislation, as it pertains to food handlers and the prevention of spread of foodborne infectious disease by food handlers relate to such aspects as training/instruction/supervision, adequate facilities and clean work environment, personal hygiene, illness reporting, work exclusion and medical certification of fitness to work.

Please refer to National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) publication Preventing Foodborne Disease: A focus on the infected Food Handler (2004) Chapter 2 The Legislative Framework for a detailed review of the Irish and EU Legislation.

Industry Food Safety Standards

British Retail Consortium (BRC) global standard for food safety is an international food safety standard and sets out requirements for Personal Hygiene and Medical Screening in sections 7.2 and 7.3

Food Safety Control Measures for Food Handler Hygiene

A control measure is simply what steps you are going to take to remove a hazard (eliminate) or at least reduce it to a low level (minimise).

Hierarchy of Food Hygiene Controls

Education/Training/Instruction for Food Handlers

The key to the prevention of contamination of food by food handlers is food handler training and the ability to maintain high standards of hygiene.

Food Handlers should have ongoing training and instruction in the importance of personal hygiene and hand washing.

Protective Clothing, Gloves, use of metal strip plasters on cuts, hair nets, beard masks, minimum jewellery / makeup

Hygiene

Hygiene Facilities and Hand Hygiene for Food Handlers

  • Hand washing facilities
  • Toilet facilities


Self-Reporting of specific health conditions and infections by Food Handlers to management

The most common symptoms of an infection are:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting


Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Sore throat with fever
  • Infected skin lesions / infected cuts on exposed skin


Work Exclusion / Restriction

It is best to assume that the cause of any of these symptoms is an infection and the food handler should be excluded until they are fit to resume food handling duties.

In certain circumstances, food handlers will need to be temporarily excluded from work or restricted to non-food handling duties to reduce the risk of spreading infection via food. The decision to exclude or restrict any food handler should be based on individual risk assessment.

Fitness to Return to Work

In most cases of infection, bacteria and viruses can still be found in faeces after symptoms stop. It is therefore important that managers continue to exclude food handlers for a period of time after this. 48 hours is the recommended length of time. This is counted from the time that symptoms (mainly diarrhoea) stop of their own accord or from the end of any treatment of the symptoms with medicine such as anti-diarrhoeal drugs (if they are used).

You can count from the time of the first normal stool if you aren’t sure when symptoms ended.

It is reasonable to presume that a single bout (e.g. one loose stool) or incidence of vomiting is not infectious if 24 hours have elapsed without any further symptoms and this is not accompanied by fever. In this case, as long as there is no other evidence to suggest an infectious cause, the person would only pose a very low risk of being infected and could resume work before the 48-hour limit. Extra care should be taken over personal hygiene practices on return to work though, especially hand washing.

If the food handler is diagnosed with a specific infection, this may require specific action. Refer to National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) publication Preventing Foodborne Disease: A focus on the infected Food Handler (2004) for specific requirements.

Medical Certification of Fitness for Work

Some EU Directives demand pre-employment and/or routine (annual) medical examination of food handlers in certain sectors. Annual medical certification is a legal requirement for food workers in meat plants, plants producing meat products and minced meat production plants; workers in the dairy sector who handle raw milk have to ensure that there is no impediment to such employment; medical certification is required of food workers in the fish processing sector at the time of recruitment. Primary producers, i.e. farmers & fishermen, are excluded from this requirement.

For these groups there is an obligation:

‘to prove, by a medical certificate, that there is no impediment to such employment’ and, where annual certification is a prerequisite, that ‘medical certificates shall be renewed every year unless another staff medical check-up scheme can offer equivalent guarantees to the satisfaction of a veterinary inspector. The owner or person in charge of an establishment shall ensure that these medical certificates are available for inspection on request by an authorised officer.’

The legal requirement for medical certification of food handlers applies to certain well defined sectors of the food industry. Although most sectors are excluded, the requirement is a source of some perplexity. There is evidence of inconsistency and confusion in practice in some of those sectors for which it is not a legal requirement.

MedWise food handler hygiene medical assessment services
  • Food Handler Hygiene Questionnaire and Exam at Pre-Employment

  • Routine Food Handler Hygiene Screening (annual review)

Some EU Directives demand pre-employment and/or routine (annual) medical examination of food handlers in some sectors. Annual medical certification is a legal requirement for food workers in meat Plants, plants producing meat products and minced meat production plants; workers in the dairy sector who handle raw milk have to ensure that there is no impediment to such employment; medical certification is required of food workers in the fish processing sector at the time of recruitment. For these groups there is an obligation “to prove, by a medical certificate, that there is no impediment to such employment” and, where annual certification is a prerequisite, that “medical certificates shall be renewed every year.

The information obtained from a health examination is valid only for the time at which it is carried out. Routine medical certification of a food handler’s fitness to work can only declare that the individual is not, at that point in time, suffering from any impediment to employment as a food handler on public health grounds Medical certification cannot declare an individual free of medical considerations for the future. Physical examination will not detect carriers of gastrointestinal disease. There is no evidence that pre-employment or routine examinations are of value in the prevention of foodborne disease, but they are required by law in specific food sectors.

The single most important impediment to working as a food handler is a lack of understanding and awareness of the principles of hygiene. The legal requirement for certification presents an opportunity to reinforce good hygiene practice and to emphasise the reporting of relevant illnesses/conditions that could pose a risk through food handling.

Medical Assessment of Food Handler with suspect infectious disease

In addition to the legislative requirement for medical certification in some sectors, Medwise can carry out a medical examination of a food handler if clinically or epidemiologically indicated – this may be appropriate at various times following certain instances of illness reporting or sick leave, following assessment of a completed health questionnaire, or in an outbreak situation.

Food Handler Microbiological Screening

Stool screening may be indicated for food handlers with symptoms of gastrointestinal illness based on individual risk assessment, taking account of the severity and duration of the symptoms and the risk rating. The objective of stool screening is to identify the specific Pathogen.

Food Handler Return to Work Medical Assessments

The overriding principle of food handlers not working when they are suffering from diarrhoea and/or vomiting due to common causes of infectious gastrointestinal illness is firmly established. All food handlers should be advised to remain off work until 48 hours after clinical recovery where the causative pathogen has not been identified. Adopting a risk-based approach, this is most crucially important in the case of high-risk food handlers. Where the pathogen has been identified, specific exclusion criteria apply.