Key messages

  • Personal hygiene is important to prevent food poisoning.
  • When handling food, wash your hands thoroughly and often.
  • If you are sick, do not go to work, because you can contaminate food more easily.
  • Food handlers should be properly trained in safe food handling.

Good personal hygiene can prevent food poisoning.

Bacteria that cause food poisoning can be on everyone – even healthy people. You can spread bacteria from yourself to the food if you touch your nose, mouth, hair or your clothes, and then food.

Good personal hygiene also makes good business sense. Customers like to see food-handling staff who take hygiene seriously and practise safe food handling.

Watch how your co-workers handle food and consider it from a customer’s point of view. Would you want to eat at, or buy food from, the place you work?

Food handlers – personal hygiene tips

To prevent food poisoning using good personal hygiene, follow these tips:

  • wash and dry your hands thoroughly before handling food, and wash and dry them again frequently during work
  • dry your hands with a clean towel, disposable paper towel or under an air dryer
  • never smoke, chew gum, spit, change a baby’s nappy or eat in a food handling or food storage area
  • never cough or sneeze over food, or where food is being prepared or stored
  • wear clean protective clothing, such as an apron
  • keep your spare clothes and other personal items (including mobile phones) away from where food is stored and prepared
  • tie back or cover long hair
  • keep fingernails short so they are easy to clean, and don’t wear nail polish because it can chip into the food
  • avoid wearing jewellery, or only wear plain-banded rings and sleeper earrings
  • completely cover all cuts and wounds with a wound strip or bandage (brightly coloured waterproof bandages are recommended)
  • wear disposable gloves over the top of the wound strip if you have wounds on your hands
  • change disposable gloves regularly
  • advise your supervisor if you feel unwell, and don’t handle food.

Food handlers – handwashing

Thoroughly washing your hands reduces the chance of contaminating food with bacteria from yourself.

Wash your hands with soap and warm water, and don’t forget the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.

Thoroughly dry your hands immediately after you wash them. Always dry your hands with a clean towel, disposable paper towel or under an air dryer. The important thing is to make sure your hands are completely dry. Never use a tea towel or your clothes to dry your hands.

Wash your hands after:

  • going to the toilet
  • handling raw food
  • blowing your nose
  • handling garbage
  • touching your ears, nose, mouth or other parts of the body
  • smoking
  • every break
  • handling animals.

If you are wearing disposable gloves, change them regularly – at the same times you would normally wash your hands if you weren’t wearing gloves. Wash and dry your hands before putting on gloves.

Food handler health and working

Food handlers may contaminate food, so employers and employees must be careful to ensure that no illness is passed on by those working in the industry.

You should not go work if you are vomiting or have diarrhoea. Don’t return to work until your symptoms have stopped for 48 hours. If you are unsure, you should contact your doctor for advice.

Do not go to work if you sick with an illness that is likely to be transmitted through food. Such illnesses include gastroenteritis (often called ‘gastro’) – including viral gastroenteritis (norovirus or rotavirus) – hepatitis A and hepatitis E, sore throat with fever, and fever with jaundice.

You must advise your supervisor if you are feeling unwell, including when suffering from a cold, flu, and sties and other eye infections.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand explains the requirements for food handlers and food businesses.

Food handlers – skills and knowledge

Food handlers need to know how their actions can affect the safety of the food they handle.

Food handlers need to know:

  • how to locate and follow workplace information
  • about their own food handling operations
  • how to identify and correct (or report) situations or procedures that do not meet the business' food safety obligations
  • who to report food safety issues to within the business
  • their responsibilities in relation to health and hygiene requirements.

The Australian Food Safety Standard 3.2.2 (Food Safety Practices and General Requirements) requires that people who handle food must have the appropriate skills and knowledge for the work they do.

Food handlers – training

Everyone working in a food premises are encouraged to be trained in safe food handling. DoFoodSafely, a free online learning program, is a good place to start.

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