For obvious reasons, food safety is an issue that concerns everyone. Every year, roughly one out of every six Americans will become ill due to foodborne pathogens, and over 100,000 will have to be hospitalized. This isn’t quite so surprising when you realize that there are no less than 31 known foodborne pathogens in existence. Among these, norovirus is responsible for more illnesses than any other pathogen, but salmonella is the most common culprit in severe cases of food poisoning. For those of you employed in fields associated with food processing and handling, these aren’t just interesting stray facts to be shared with friends and colleagues over social media — they relate to important safety issues that must be addressed every single day as part of your professional duties.
Food safety involves a wide variety of topics, but what we’re going to focus on here is the role of HACCP uniforms and their role in promoting a hygienic food handling environment. As we will soon see, uniforms aren’t just for show; they have valuable safety functions as well.
The HACCP System
So what do we mean when we talk about HACCP uniforms? If you’re a food processing professional, it’s likely that you’re already aware of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system, so we’ll refrain from a detailed discussion of it here. It’s enough to say that HACCP is a widely used quality-control method that identifies and addresses potential problems in a food handling process. This is a preventative approach to food safety that, when followed properly, can drastically reduce the incidence of cross contamination and other hazards. A HACCP uniform, then, is one that aligns with the goals of this method.
Characteristics of HACCP Uniforms
HACCP food manufacturing shirts, smocks, and coats must have certain design features:
No pockets above the waist — Pockets are very useful, but they’re also prone to trapping bacteria. That can cause a major problem in a food handling environment because the worker can accidentally transfer microorganisms to the edibles they’re preparing. Also, pockets can store items that may fall into the food or packaging.
No buttons — What’s wrong with buttons on a shirt or coat? Like pockets, buttons can trap bacteria. This is one reason why button-less “wrap-style” smocks are so common in food preparation areas. Buttons can also come off the garment and fall into the food or packaging.
Durable fabric — Flimsy shirts and smocks can deteriorate after multiple washings. That means the fabric can begin to break apart and contaminate the food. For that reason, you should use industrial grade materials for food-handling uniforms.
HACCP Uniform Usage
In addition, it is important to follow proper safety guidelines with regard to uniform use in the workplace:
Use clean uniforms — It sounds obvious, but this is one of those rules that sometimes isn’t followed to the letter. Employees should always begin their shift with a clean uniform. Clean and sanitized uniforms need to be worn on a daily basis.
Have replacement apparel on hand — What happens if employees accidentally get their smocks dirty? They need to change clothing immediately, and that’s why it is important to ensure that there are spare, clean and sanitized uniforms available for use.
Avoid using damaged uniforms — We keep mentioning the need to keep bacteria off personnel uniforms, and this is another way that microorganisms can thrive on their apparel. Any item of clothing that has become torn, frayed, or otherwise damaged is difficult to clean properly and therefore is much more likely to harbor dangerous bacteria.
Don’t allow employees to wear jewelry — Rings, necklaces, and the like are also known bacteria reservoirs. Employees shouldn’t wear any jewelry during their shifts.
Don’t permit uniforms to be worn outside of a work station — Here is a policy that often gets ignored, with potentially serious consequences. Employees should be instructed never to wear their uniforms outside the area where they handle food. That means they should remove their uniforms if they temporarily leave their station. It may seem like an inconvenient rule, but failing to follow it can lead to accidental cross contamination if the uniform is exposed to other environments.
Require the use of disposable gloves — These provide an excellent way for food handling employees to keep their hands clean. Hand sanitizer is another valuable ally in this endeavor.
To give your employees the best possible HACCP uniforms, you should consider a uniform rental service with a generous selection of food processing apparel.
About the Author
Jerry Martin is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Prudential Overall Supply, an industry leader in reusable image work and related textiles. Martin is also a member of the Textile Rental Service Association (TRSA) and currently serves as past chairman of the association's Marketing & PR committee. Through his work at TRSA, Jerry helped establish TRSA’s international standard for the Clean Green certification program.