Every industry has a dress code. Suits, ties, dresses and the like are the norm in places like law firms, but if you walk into an advertising agency, you may find employees dressed in Hawaiian shirts with cargo shorts and sneakers. In a food and beverage processing environment, being “dressed for work” takes on a different meaning. An improperly dressed worker can cause product contamination, which poses a threat to consumer safety that can have huge financial ramifications for the company. Dressing for a job in food and beverage processing comes with strict requirements that are in place for very good reasons.
The dangers of food borne illnesses
According to Health Canada, every year, 1 in 8 Canadians contracts a food-borne illness, resulting in 11,600 hospitalizations and 238 deaths. Food-borne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, occurs when we ingest food or beverages that have been directly contaminated or cross-contaminated with one or more chemical products, allergens, foreign objects, or microbes, which are pathogenic microorganisms or their toxins. When food is cross-contaminated, it simply means that the chemical or allergen, etc. was transferred from another food item. Either form of contamination can occur when good management practices (GMPs) are not respected, and in the event that a product does become contaminated, the cost of issuing a recall can run into the millions and have a major impact on the company’s reputation.
Keeping our food supply safe is a big responsibility
In order to maintain the safety of our food supply, food and beverage processing plants have to adhere to strict protocols. Food businesses in Canada are legally obligated to implement a system for managing food safety that is based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control (HACCP) system. HACCP is a systematic approach designed to prevent food contamination and or cross-contamination by establishing measures and GMPs to minimize the risks that cause it. Workplace uniforms are one of many HACCP critical control points and ensuring that employees wear HACCP-compliant uniforms at all times is a fundamental step in ensuring edibles are safe and healthy.
Clean uniforms are first line of defense
Uniforms protect both the wearer and the product. In the same way that dirty or exposed hands can contaminate a product, so can dirty or improper work clothing. Along with proper cleaning and maintenance procedures and adherence to plant protocols and GMPs, proper uniforms are the first line of defense in protecting our food supply from contamination and cross-contamination with pathogens or allergens.
No ordinary clothing
What makes a food processing uniform HACCP compliant comes down to three things: fabric, design and following plant protocols.
- Choose the right fabric – Uniforms have to be made from durable, non-shedding fabrics that can hold up through numerous wearings and frequent washings with strong detergents. For hand protection, you can choose between reusable gloves and aprons that can be easily cleaned with cleaner & sanitizer, or disposable, single-use items.
- Pay attention to the design – Make sure uniforms are properly fitted and free of buttons or pockets above the waist. Pockets can trap bacteria even after washing. Buttons can also harbor germs and worse yet; they can fall off and end up in the packaging.
- Follow plant protocols – Many habits that are acceptable in one’s daily life are not permitted in food processing environments. For instance, plant employees are not allowed to wear jewelry. Wedding bands are the exception, but only if they are covered with tape. Nail polish, fake nails, mascara, or anything that can become detached and end up in the packaging is also forbidden, and hair and facial hair and must be completely covered at all times. Chewing gum, food or beverages while working are also a no-no. Employees must have specific footwear to wear exclusively inside the plant, and when passing from one department to another, they must make sure their footwear undergoes the established sanitization process.
Don’t forget the eyes!
The importance of eye protection in the food and beverage processing environment can’t be understated. Employees handle a variety of materials that may splatter; they move in and out of refrigerated areas causing their glasses to fog, and they are surrounded by running machinery. Proper safety glasses are essential and they can easily be kept clean and fog-free with VITREX+.
Can coloured uniforms help prevent cross-contamination?
Yes, they can! Colour-coded uniforms or bouffant caps can help to control traffic and prevent employees from moving from one area to another. The colour provides a visual cue to alert plant supervisors when an employee moves from a high contamination area such as slaughtering, to a low contamination area like meat cutting.
Keeping the uniforms clean
Having the right kind of uniform is just the first step. Keeping them clean while being worn is also a requirement for HACCP compliance, so here are a few tips you can follow:
- Whenever possible, send your uniforms to an external laundry service that specializes in workplace apparel.
- If you are washing uniforms on the premises, keep clean and dirty uniforms in separate bins
- Make sure the carts used to transport uniforms are cleaned regularly or equipped with washable or removable liners
- Store uniforms in a clean area and make sure that the people in charge of sorting and handling them wear disposable gloves.
- Prepare for mishaps by keeping a stock of spare uniforms, gloves, smocks and other required apparel on hand
Keeping our food supply contaminant-free is a huge responsibility, but when food and beverage processors adhere to HACCP standards including HACCP-compliant uniforms, consumers can enjoy their meals and beverages in complete comfort and safety. For a complete selection of products and solutions for food and beverage processing environments, visit the Sani Marc web site or for must-have supplementary products, equipment and accessories consult the catalogue.