This leaflet is for all food businesses, including those involved in catering, food production, food preparation, retail premises, restaurants, pubs, cafes, and fast-food shops.

What does personal hygiene mean in a food business?
Personal hygiene is the important part of food safety that focuses on the food handler.

Personal hygiene is all about our standards of dress and cleanliness. Good personal hygiene is important to make sure we are pleasant to be with, look our best, and do not contaminate food.

Food handlers should make sure that they have a bath or shower before going to work. Hair must be clean as greasy hair is more likely to fall out and contaminate food.

In a food environment, personal hygiene also covers how we behave around food.

Why does it matter?
Poor personal hygiene can lead to food being contaminated and food-related illness. You and your staff must set, and keep to, high standards of personal hygiene.

The personal hygiene rules that everyone must keep to are set down in food safety regulations. These are a key part of meeting the legal requirements.

Food contamination and personal hygiene
There are three major types of food contaminants - physical (things you can see in food), chemical, and microbiological - and personal hygiene is linked to all of them.

Physical - includes items linked with the food handler such as hair, fingernails, buttons and threads from clothing and jewellery.

Chemical - particularly cosmetics, toiletries and perfumes.

Nail varnish may chip and tiny pieces end up in food, or on equipment, utensils and food wrappings.

Strong smells from toiletries and perfumes may get into foods and change their flavour (taint). This means you will not be able to use the food and end up throwing it away which will be expensive for your business.

Microbiological- there are two main problems:
This bacteria is often found on the skin, in the nose or on the hair of everyone . An infected area, such as a wound, spot or boil, will also have the bacteria in larger numbers.

Staphylococcus is too small to see, so you may not know it's there. It gets on your hands and food through coughing, sneezing and scratching and if you touch your hair, mouth or nose. It can multiply on our palms, which are often warm and moist, and provide conditions which suit it.

When the Staphylococcus multiplies it produces a poison, known as a toxin which, when eaten, causes vomiting and sometimes diarrhoea. It is a milder type of food poisoning that doesn't last long, but is unpleasant and is due to poor personal hygiene.

There are the other organisms called pathogens, which include bacteria and viruses, that we collect on our hands and clothes on the way to work, during work, or on breaks when we may eat, drink, smoke and go to the toilet.

Protective clothing
There are many types of protective clothing. Protective clothing protects the food that is being prepared from anything that may contaminate it from the food handlers' own clothing.

The protective clothing a member of staff wears will depend on their specific work role. It can range from a full change of clothing into chef whites, to a single layer over their own clothes, such as a disposable apron or clean tabard.

If you or your staff handle open food it is recommended that your protective clothing should include a hat, which will reduce the risk of hair and dandruff contaminating food.

As the 'business owner' you should provide any protective clothing for food handlers. (The business operator is often the business owner.)

Protective clothing must always be clean, so you should provide enough clothing so that staff uniforms and protective clothing can be changed between laundry washes. 

Jewellery is not allowed although some companies may allow a plain wedding band and a pair of stud backed earrings.

Apart from falling into the food, textured jewellery collects dirt and bacteria that can contaminate food.

Hand hygiene
Hand care and hygiene is a very important part of food safety.

By law, you must provide a separate hand wash basin or sink in any food area, which must only be used for washing hands and should be in a place that is easy to get to and use.

The basin or sink must have hot and cold water and soap (preferably liquid or spray soap). You need to provide something to dry hands with, ideally paper towels, which are used once and then thrown away. A cloth or fabric towel is not suitable as they could be used more than once without being cleaned.

All food handlers must be trained to wash their hands thoroughly. Hand-washing should take about 30 seconds of continuous lathering and should include fingertips, nail beds and forearms. Anyone handling food must keep their fingernails short and clean as long nails collect bits of food and bacteria.

You and your staff must not wear nail varnish.

False nails of any sort are not allowed.

Any wounds, scratches or grazes must be covered with a clean, brightly coloured (blue) waterproof dressing.

Keep food handling to a minimum
You should plan to make sure that your food is handled as little as possible.

You should always use utensils when you can.

You should consider using disposable gloves. Remember that you are protecting the food from the food handlers, not protecting the handlers from the food, so gloves should be changed as often as you would wash your hands. Make sure that there is a good supply of gloves available so that staff can change them regularly.

Fitness to work
Department of Health guidelines mean that food handlers must be 'fit to work' with food.

By law, food handlers must tell their supervisor about any health issues that may put food safety at risk. Staff should not work with food if they are suffering from diarrhoea or sickness or for a period of 48 hours after symptoms gave stopped. You must then stop them handling food if staff tell you they have been ill.

Food handlers must report diarrhoea, vomiting, a heavy cold, a sore throat, respiratory infections with coughing, and septic cuts such as infected wounds, spots and boils, weeping eyes or ears.

You must make sure you provide personal hygiene training to all your staff before they work in food areas.

As the 'business operator', you are responsible for making sure staff are trained, instructed or supervised so that high standards are maintained.

The food industry is a sector where image and customer impressions are very important. Food handlers who look untidy or unclean or don't behave properly in food environments put customers off, and this can affect your business.

More information
You will find further guidance in our other leaflets on this website. Information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Alternatively, contact your local environmental health service for advice.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

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