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The Importance of Food Safety and Hygiene Training At The Office

An estimated 600 million people fall ill after eating contaminated food, and 420,000 die every year. While experiencing a bad bout of food poisoning often isn’t the first thing to come to mind while working in an office setting, it can definitely happen, which highlights the benefits of food safety and hygiene training among employees. From the dangers of cross contamination to food spoilage and even debunking a popular food safety myth, here’s what you should know about the importance of food safety and how training programs can help at the office.

Cross contamination and unwashed hands

Cross contamination is a common food safety concern even while at the office, as it can happen in a number of different ways. Defined as the transfer of bacteria or other microorganisms from one substance to another, there are several situations in which cross contamination could occur while at the workplace. One common way that cross contamination could easily occur, for instance, is via having unwashed hands when in the kitchen area, which is a major concern in workplaces (particularly during cold and flu season).

In terms of food safety, instances of cross contamination could involve sick employees touching fruits in the office with unwashed hands, and another employee eating said fruit, consequently leading to the sickness spreading. In food safety and hygiene training, employees will learn the importance of proper hand washing and a clean workplace in regards to their food, which will tremendously reduce the risks of cross contamination and contribute to a safer work environment for everyone involved. Thankfully, such training can be done via informative online courses, which will allow you to get the whole staff trained easily and in a timely manner.

The 5 second rule doesn’t apply

Whether you’re behind your desk or in the office kitchen preparing a quick lunch, the idea of dropping a piece of food on the ground might not sound like a big deal, though it’s important to know that the infamous “five second rule" actually doesn’t — and shouldn’t — apply under any circumstance, and can contribute to an unsafe work environment. In fact, the idea that if a piece of food only touches the floor for a few seconds and it’s still safe to eat is actually a complete myth, and comprehensive food safety and hygiene training courses should highlight this. Researchers at Rutgers University explored this theory by testing how long it takes bacteria to transfer from floor to food, and discovered that bacterial transfer occurred at every time interval. What’s more, is that more bacteria was found to be transferred the longer that the food was on the floor, making this theory imperative to be aware of.

The issue with communal appliances

Communal appliances, like that of an office fridge or microwave, are generally regarded as the mecca of any office kitchen set-up, and are usually used frequently by many throughout the day. However, these appliances do have their dangers when it comes to food safety risks, making it extremely important to ensure that a food safety training course or program covers the matter. Microwaves, for instance, are covered in germs (particularly when it comes to the handle and touchpad, which are it’s most frequently touched surfaces). Without proper hand washing among those who use the microwave, this could easily lead to someone getting sick should they remove their food from the microwave and start eating.

Additionally, food safety issues could also arise should an employee attempt to cook a particularly thick or oddly shaped food in the microwave, as it might not be able to be cooked all the way through. In fact, food might be cooked unevenly, and leave behind cold pockets for bacteria to thrive in, according to microbiologist Julie Torruellas Garcia. In regards to the office refrigerator, failing to keep it clean can also hold consequences, though in different ways, particularly when food is improperly stored. For example, keeping lettuce or fruit in a fridge past it’s due date without being in a container or bag could lead to juices contaminating other food. In fact, according to The Wall Street Journal, many consumers don’t think about how to properly organize a fridge when putting away groceries, or even think about cleaning it, proving just how important training is in a communal office setting.

However, other risks are also of concern in regards to the office fridge as well. Because coffee is a staple in nearly any office building, additives like creamer and milk are equally as omnipresent. While such dairy products live in the fridge, however, they shouldn’t ever be placed in the door of the appliance - no matter how fitting the space may seem. This is because such items are much more prone to spoiling quicker when placed in the refrigerator’s door due to it not being as cold, and could even lead to the attraction of bacteria - thus heightening the risk of becoming sick.

Speaking of coffee…

Speaking of coffee, communal coffee makers commonly used at the office also involve a significant health risk should they not be cleaned regularly. This is because bacteria tends to thrive in warm, moist spaces, making an unclean coffee pot the prime place for mold to grow. Consequently, the health risks involved with ingesting these mold spores via coffee could include triggering allergies and causing symptoms such as headaches, congestion, and coughing, to name a few. The onset of flu-like symptoms are also a possibility, as well as upper respiratory infections. Because of these health risks, it’s imperative that your staff know how to clean the coffee pot, and that it gets done on a regular basis. While this may be challenging should there be numerous people from the office using the coffee pot, implementing a communication system (such as a message board above the coffee machine) can effectively allow staff to note when the last time it was cleaned.

The risks of food spoilage

Fresh salads, fruits, and cold cut sandwiches all make for a great lunch at the office, though it’s important to be mindful of spoilage. Whether you brought it in to share or for yourself, forgetting about the food in the workplace fridge is all too common, and can result in food poisoning very easily should an employee get to it too late and still decide to take a chance on it. For such reasons, a food safety and hygiene training program or courses can raise the importance of implementing valuable safety practices like noting the date that employees brought the food in on the container itself, which would eliminate the risks of eating spoiled food for everyone in the office.

High contact surfaces

In any office, the typical high touch surfaces include door handles, meeting room tables and chairs, communal computer mouses and keyboards, and elevator buttons, to name a few. And, while these aren’t in an office kitchen set up, they can still have an effect on food health and hygiene risks. For instance, should a sick employee use a communal office computer and fail to wash their hands, another employee who happens to use the same keyboard and mouse could easily transmit germs to their mouth should they not wash their hands before eating (especially if they’re snacking on finger foods with bare hands).

While the issue of high contact surfaces in an office setting certainly highlights the need for proper hand washing protocol and the subject to be touched on through training, it’s also very important that these high contact surfaces are cleaned themselves, too. This is because even if staff washes their hands, these surfaces can still be dirty and can easily allow germs to circulate throughout the whole office. For such reasons, it’s important to ensure that your building has proper cleaning protocol in place, depending in it’s size (such as a janitor or maintenance staff that regularly wipes down high contact surfaces). If your business is on the smaller side, however, there are ways that you can set your staff up for success in regards to cleaning in the office after training.

Setting your office up for success

Thankfully, there are a number of ways that you can set your staff up for food hygiene and safety success after they’ve been trained. For example, in addition to implementing techniques like asking employees to note the date on their food containers in the fridge, or installing a message board above the coffee machine, ensuring that your staff has easy access to the right cleaning materials is another important consideration to reduce risks. For example, in addition to keeping antibacterial soap near sinks in the kitchen area, setting up hand sanitizer stations throughout the office and giving your staff access to antibacterial wipes (which can be used on high contact surfaces), you can effectively make the office a safer and cleaner place for everyone.

No matter the industry, food hygiene and safety training should be a staple, even in typical office settings. From spoilage to cross contamination, the benefits of implementing food hygiene and safety training (whether it be in person or online) will help you to ensure a high level of food safety among the entire staff.

Written By: Sara Timpson