Foodborne Illnesses In The Food Industry – The Real Problem

June 18, 2020 Ofir Broides Vavker

It’s almost incomprehensible how much responsibility the food industry faces. People can die or be severely ill if a single employee doesn’t follow specially crafted hygiene protocols. Food passes so many hands until it reaches our plates. From growing the crops to harvesting them, transporting them, handling them, preparing the food itself, and serving it – the food industry cannot afford to disregard hygiene standards, anywhere along the way.

Because of this, food hygiene is of utmost importance, especially in food factories and restaurants. The WHO wrote, “Food can become contaminated at any point… Lack of adequate food hygiene can lead to foodborne diseases and death of the consumer”. They’re not exaggerating – the CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

As the saying goes, “the numbers don’t lie.” In this case, those numbers tell a hard truth. Businesses around the world are not doing enough to ensure their customers receive the safest end product.

Theoretically, hygiene – hand hygiene in particular – shouldn’t be the problem that it is. The protocols are there. Employees are supposedly aware of how often and why they should wash their hands. And yet, it doesn’t happen like it should. Something happens along the way. This isn’t a problem only the food industry faces – the healthcare system is trying to tackle similar issues with their staff. This is not a field-specific problem, but a human problem. Employees, for various reasons, don’t wash their hands as often as they should. The food industry, however, suffers financial consequences due to this issue, wasting enormous money amounts on lawsuits that could’ve been avoided.   

Why don’t employees follow hand washing protocols?

Lack of resources

There isn’t always an accessible sink, stacked with soap and disposable paper towels. It’s quite simple if you think about it – not having enough available sinks mean fewer employees can (or even remember to) wash their hands. Companies should ensure their facilities have a good number of working sinks close to their employees. Companies should take into account that soap is crucial in the hand washing process, and is not always refilled in busy locations throughout the workday. Disposable paper towels are the best way (hygienically speaking) to dry hands, limiting the spread of possible germs.

Job burnout

We recently wrote a whole article about job burnout, and with good reason – employees with job burnout have a harder time paying attention to hygiene protocols in their weary state. Employers need to address the underlying issues causing the burnout in order to improve employee performance.

Lack of positive encouragement

We never compliment employees on washing their hands properly. It feels like a given to us – but why? When your employee does a good job, you tell them so. You boost their morale, you use positive reinforcement. Why does washing hands thoroughly not count as doing a good job? Your employees need to know that it’s important – and rewarding – to follow these important protocols.

The invisible problem

You can’t tell whether someone washed their hands or not. You can see a surgical mask or gloves, you can even tell if clothes are dirty and need to be changed. But you can’t know whether hands are clean from germs and viruses. As employers, it’s hard to keep track of how many times a day each employee washed his hands, and if so, how thoroughly. There are a number of techniques to answer this issue or at least part of it. The “old school” system would be a handwritten list that names employee ID and time of the wash. This method doesn’t allow measuring how thoroughly hands were washed and can cause cross-contamination from the list and pen themselves. Recent methods utilize technology to overcome these challenges.

Soapy’s solution, the ECO Hygiene Micro-Station is specially designed to cater to the food industry’s unique needs. The smart, touch-free sink dispenses the exact amount of soap and warm water needed per wash. This saves both water and regents otherwise wasted. The facial recognition feature ensures managers can track the quality of each user’s wash, as well as hygiene trends in their facilities, and is GDPR compliant. If you want to learn more about the ECO Hygiene Micro-Station, you can contact us here. If you want to keep in touch with us through our newsletters, you can sign up for them down below.  

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