In the complex industry of food regulations, strong women like Liat stand out. With an impressive track-record of over a decade in the quality assurance field, Liat has agreed to share her experiences with us. “I’m a food engineer,” she told us, “and for the last ten years I’ve focused on regulations in the food industry and quality assurance. Last year I left the Israeli ministry of health and started an independent business, consulting about food safety and hygiene in the food industry.”
Hygienic challenges in the food industry
“I’d say the main challenges in the food industry revolve around sanitation. You have to make sure the environment in which the food is prepared is sanitized, that the equipment used is sanitized. Making sure the work area stays clean 100% of the time is very hard work. You have to make sure that the employees’ hands are clean, too, brushing up on hand washing protocols and techniques.”
Addressing the hidden challenges, as well as the observable ones, is one of Liat’s specialties. “I think there’s a hidden mental challenge that comes with food hygiene,” Liat explained to us. “A lot of businesses think that they can’t do it, that they can’t be better. I’ve heard business owners say, exasperated, “We’re expected to be as clean as a pharmacy!” And my answer to that is, you’ve got to strive to reach that level. You have to aim high because it will bring you closer to your goal – aiming low will not get you to where you need to be.”
Employees are the key
“There’s a lack of knowledge on the employees’ part in the food industry, and that plays a major role in why hand hygiene is lacking in the food industry. Some employees just don’t know how to wash their hands effectively, it’s a technique that you have to teach them. When training a surgeon, washing hands is one of the things in the curriculum. Someone takes the time to explain how to do it properly. You have to ask yourself, why are we not teaching more people how to do that? An employee in the food industry needs to learn how to wash their hands because the more thorough and aware the hand wash is, the higher the hand hygiene standard is. There are businesses in the food industry that are extremely susceptible to hand borne pathogens, and so hand hygiene really should be at the front of their concerns.”
Being aware enough
Washing hands comes naturally to us – we’re told to do it since we can remember. But are we taught to do it well? According to Liat, this is part of the issue when it comes to practicing good hand hygiene. “Everyone washes their hands, all the time, every day. It’s a normal thing to do. That’s why we do it automatically, without thinking about what we’re really doing. We just wet our hands, put some soap, and wash it away – without lathering it correctly, without spending the amount of time that we should – we don’t even think about it. In the food industry, it’s imperative to instill good hand hygiene habits, to teach employees how to wash their hands the correct way and keep at it until it becomes the automatic way of doing things.”
Learning to manage hygiene in the food industry
As a whole, the food industry is a though environment. Success is hard to earn, but bad reviews are rather easy to come by. “Any business owner wants to give the customer the best possible experience with their product. A customer that gets sick from your product won’t hesitate to write a bad review online, and that gets around very quickly. That’s every business owner’s worst nightmare. Shaming culture is real, and business owners need to take action to ensure better hygiene in their businesses to keep themselves safe. You can use a consultant to create a hygiene strategy for your business. You can also go through trainings that the health administration offers through local colleges for businesses in the food industry. There are a lot of options out there for business owners in the field.”
The worst of all happened – now what?
“You start with your employees,” Liat explains briskly. “You have to understand how they wash their hands, what kind of instruction and guidance they’re getting when it comes to hygiene, you can even perform lab tests inside your facilities to ensure they’re up to the standard. Some tests are more immediate, and are also cheaper – tests don’t have to be impossible for businesses to afford. Planning a good hygiene strategy and implementing good hygiene habits is extremely important. You have to really understand how your employees move in the workspace, where they touch things, even where and how they defrost meats. Most employees come with their old habits, they behave at work the way they would in their own kitchens, and these habits can be harmful.”
Getting a hygiene makeover
“I’m currently guiding a business that reached out to me when it got a shutdown notice from the Israeli administration of health due to lacking hygiene. They wanted my help to get over that crisis,” Liat told us, her eyes lighting up. “We started with surveying the existing infrastructure. I noticed things the health administration haven’t even caught on to yet – but we wrote it all down and addressed these issues, regardless. I built a schedule for them: having a final date to when each topic will be resolved really helps people wrap their heads around what needs to be done. We changed their hand washing patterns, we changed the type of soap they used, they type of hand washing guidance they received, and much more. Today they’re in a great place, local authorities actually come to learn from them about hygiene in the workplace, taking pictures and asking questions. It was incredible to be able to see the change and help them achieve their goals.”
Customers’ power and responsibilities
“Today’s customers are a lot more aware than they used to be, but they still can’t see the kitchen for the most part. I recommend customers take a peek at the restroom of a restaurant before ordering. The same team cleans the kitchen and the bathroom, so if one of them is unhygienic, you can bet the other one isn’t doing great either. Customers don’t order things as easily anymore, there are whole Facebook groups with restaurant-shaming posts and thousands of members. If places are unhygienic they will get bad reviews, that’s not a matter of guesswork – they will. Bagged food products can’t escape the wrath of the internet either, if you have insects inside your products you bet you’re going to hear about it on every platform available.
Customers need to open their eyes and be aware, whether it be a sticky menu or dirty floors, to see what is right in front of them. Waitresses with untied hair is also an example of a hygiene-issue. The greatest challenge is avoiding cutting corners. A business that cuts corners will end up lacking in hygiene, it’s just a matter of time.”
Lessons learned in the hygiene-business
“When I eat out, I’m the one that always finds hairs in my food or a lipstick mark on my glass,” Liat laughs, “but that could be because I know what to look for since I’m aware. When you know what to look for, you can see it much better. Customers can always reach out to the health administration if something is really wrong with a product. The health administration relies on the customers’ complaints to track down bad eggs in the food industry. It’s our right to demand better, more hygienic services.”
Especially during such tremulous times, keeping a high hygiene standard helps businesses and customers alike thrive. Liat understands that, and has started her own business consulting about better hygiene in the food industry. If you’d like to reach out to Liat, you can find her on her website, https://www.liatmetsamber.com/ . Liat has also started two Israeli Facebook groups centering about hygiene issues in the food industry, “תשאל מהנדס/טכנולוג מזון” and “הקמת עסק מזון מיוזמה לרישיון”.