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Clean hands make food products safe

In the food processing industry, hand hygiene is a high stakes game. The persistence of microbes on a food handler’s hands can contaminate an entire batch of products, making them unfit for sale or consumption, and affecting the bottom line of the business.

Sujay Khandelwal, Managing Partner, Mohan Impex, one of India’s leading food products manufacturer and distributors, and Dr Rachna Dave, Founder & CEO, MicroGO LLP, which aims to improve hand hygiene compliance by digitising it, spoke to Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal about the challenges of maintaining hand hygiene and how to make it food handler-friendly.

Sujay: As per FSSAI norms, our workers wash their hands when they enter, and then wear disposable gloves before they start working. There are many hygiene parameters that FSSAI emphasises on. If you touch any external surface, hands need to be washed before resuming work. As per norms, hands need to be washed for 40-60 seconds.

Unfortunately, in India, hygiene systems are followed only by the largest food processing players. The remaining 90% of food business operators do not adhere to them.

If you enter the manufacturing units of most food processing companies or standalone bakers in India, you will find that workers neither wash hands nor wear gloves. This is bound to contaminate food with microbiological growth and will impact the quality of the food product as a direct consequence of lack of hygiene.

However, post-Covid, the food industry has embraced the use of sanitiser.

Rachna: When we started the company, we used to approach clients with a show-and-tell method for how to follow the six steps of hand hygiene. We used lab results that showed the decrease in microbe counts after following the correct hand hygiene technique. When we do this, people understand the need to follow FSSAI recommendations.

If the correct method is followed, 99.99% of microbes will be killed. If a shortcut is taken, perhaps 99% of the microbes may still be killed. But that 0.99% difference in microbiology equals one million microbial cells.

Sujay: The FSSAI hand hygiene rules are very stringent. It is easy for anyone to show compliance on paper, but not easy to implement in practice.

Once someone enters the working space, they need to wash their hands every single time they touch a non-work surface. This is understandable when one is entering from outside. But how can a person work if handwashing needs to be done every other minute? This is the challenge.

Rachna: We don’t advise our food processing clients to wash their hands all the time, but we do recommend that it be done regularly, at least once in an hour. This intermittent handwashing will bring down the microbial contamination and prevent food contamination.

Mrigank: Can the cost of hand hygiene be calculated first, for it to be brought down?

Sujay: This cost is included in our overall operational cost.

Unfortunately, in India, hygiene systems are followed only by the largest food processing players. The remaining 90% of food business operators do not adhere to them.

Sujay Khandelwal

 

Rachna: This cost may be direct or indirect, and includes the real estate for a handwashing station, running water (2.25 litres are typically used per person per wash), soap, electricity and paper towels (usually, more than one is taken). The sanitiser dispenser is pumped multiple times by a person. Each extra pump increases costs by 33%. A blower cannot be used for drying, as it generates aerosol which will contaminate the area.

Our machines are simple to use, and managers can track each person’s hand hygiene compliance. Our all-in-one machine uses just 2.5 ml of alcohol-based handrub per person-wash, and has an in-built hand dryer which is an air dryer, not a blower.

Every time a food handler enters, the system registers his entry and creates a hand hygiene opportunity. The hand hygiene process is monitored and the correct technique is predetermined; hence no extra consumables are used. It also eliminates the need for paper towels, bin liners and a person to empty the bin.

IoT enables us to track compliance or lack thereof. This information is displayed, motivating people to do better and helping managers ascertain if they are meeting their hand hygiene targets.

Customers are seeing the results for themselves, including savings on water, and direct and indirect costs. FSSAI experts and auditors with whom food processing units are associated now recommend our product.

Mrigank: Wearing gloves for long hours, particularly in humid areas, is particularly uncomfortable for food handlers, whose hands will become sticky and sweaty.

Rachna: If our product is used properly, we do not recommend wearing gloves.

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