By Brihony Tulloch
Food contamination is a risk most commonly associated with businesses in the hospitality industry. But did you know that food poisoning is a potential hazard in almost all workplaces? The humble staff kitchen and communal microwave can be breeding grounds for bacteria and disease if you do not comply with your workplace health and safety duties surrounding food preparation and consumption.
Keep reading to discover 10 easy ways you can reduce the risk of contamination in your workplace.
How does contamination occur?
The Australian Health Department estimates that more than 5.4 million Australians get sick each year from eating contaminated food. A proportion of this number occurs in the workplace, including where food is sold at a café or restaurant.
Contamination can be either:
- physical – such as hair, dirt, particles or other objects getting into the food;
- chemical – usually a chemical spray that has been applied to the food, such as detergent, herbicides or pesticides; and
- microbiological – common germs such as mould, bacteria or viruses.
If your organisation provides food to staff or others via a workplace kitchen, you must take additional precautions to avoid food poisoning.
Which legislation governs food hygiene?
In addition to the health and safety laws, there is a specific Food Act in each jurisdiction with which you must comply, and the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. Local councils also have health inspectors who check on compliance.
What can I do to minimise risk of food poisoning?
Food poisoning occurs when food is contaminated with bacteria. As an employer you have a duty of care towards your employees’ health – this includes taking measures to ensure that food is not contaminated
It’s important to note that a number of other industries and workplaces also require additional measures for hygiene. These include hospitals, schools and childcare facilities, and also hairdressers and beauty clinics.
If your organisation is involved in these industries, you should seek further information about the food hygiene requirements from your industry association or the health department in your jurisdiction.
As a rule, it’s best to follow these 10 steps:
- Ensure that workers wash their hands before and after handling food.
- Ensure your staffroom has a working refrigerator and it’s free from outdated food at the end of the week.
- Keep food preparation areas, such as benchtops, microwave ovens, clean.
- Provide workers with clean utensils to enable them to prepare and eat their food. If your business provides biscuits or other snacks, tongs should also be provided to avoid contamination.
- Provide a sink and draining board with hot water and detergent so that cutlery and crockery can be cleaned after each use. Buckets or tubs may be provided when fixed facilities are not available. These should only be used for dishwashing purposes and should be cleaned after each use.
- If food is being prepared for other people, ensure that appropriate clothing is worn, including gloves and hairnets, and that any open wounds are covered with sterile strips, e.g. Band-Aids.
- Make sure hot food is either kept hot or reheated to avoid the risk of contamination (check with Food Standards Australia for the correct temperatures for frozen, chilled and hot foods).
- Ensure that cooked foods are kept separate from raw or uncooked foods, particularly during food preparation, and that different utensils are used for each.
- Ensure that any cleaning equipment that regularly gets wet, e.g. mops, cloths and dishwashing brushes, is thoroughly washed and dried after each use.
- Keep bins free of insects and vermin to minimise the risk of disease spreading.