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Missoula County Environmental Health: Licensed Establishments

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Hand Washing, Handling and Hygiene

September 16, 2010

Once Upon a Missed Hand Wash-- Wash After Handling Dirty Dishes

I have been getting a lot of questions on a particular subject lately: hand washing after bussing or handling dirty dishes... is it really required?  The answer is 'Yes, Virginia... you must wash after busing'.  At this point, the operator grimaces and the employees usually groan.  And you know what... I get it.  Really I do.  I worked in food service during college and realize that sometimes it is really difficult to get in all the hand washes you need to or put that sanitizer towel back in that bucket after use, but it is really important that you do.

Why?  Let's think about it a bit.  While you are required to show up to work illness-free, not everyone coming into your restaurant will be in the same healthy state.  They wipe their hands and mouths on their napkins, and when they drink, saliva naturally gets onto the cup rim and into the beverage.  What you are touching could have pathogens that you could pass on to others or yourself!

Okay... pop the popcorn kids and get comfy-- it's gross story time...

Once upon a time in Billings, a little server cleared a table.  Since she wanted to be super efficient, she gathered all the glasses together, stuck her fingers down inside of them and carried them back to the kitchen.  She dropped them on the dirty side of the dishwasher and then started to head back to finish clearing the table.  On her way, she saw a customer's order waiting on the pass through.  She snagged a fry off the plate and tossed it into her mouth.  Then she finished clearing the table.  At this point, the wonderful fairy godfather, FSA rep Mike Callaghan (the source for this story), flagged the server over and showed her one of the glasses she'd carried back to the kitchen.  The girl gasped-- on the rim was blood and pus from a customer's cold sore.  She looked at her hand, the same hand that had just tossed a fry into her mouth, and sure enough, the fabulous lip leakage was on her digits too...... ewww.

I think traditionally I am supposed to insert that she lived happily ever after, but really, I think it's more accurate to say she washed her hands religiously from that point on.

I think the above story illustrates very well what can be present on dirty dishes, but keep in mind that pathogens cannot be seen.  Contamination does not have to be visible to be a problem.  Wash your hands after clearing tables and between handling dirty dishes going into the dishwasher and the clean ones coming out. 

Hand Washing/Handling/Hygiene
September 3, 2010

Gloving 101: How Do I Use Gloves?

I would say this (see above) is one of the most frequently asked questions during an inspection or a food class... aside from 'why can't I use hand sanitizer in place of hand washing' and 'why won't this chili cool in this big ole' plastic bucket'.  And trust me, gloves tend to generate more questions than answers. 

Let's talk about glove use in general.  They are a barrier-- at least that is the intention.  They are not a sanitizing surface and they definitely are not going to solve all handling concerns, but they do have their place in a food service establishment.  That being said-- do not go and throw out all of your gloves because I just said they don't solve everything.  When used properly, they can be a great asset, but, yes, when used incorrectly, they can sometimes cause more problems than they solve.

So here's the break down:
1) In Missoula County, there must be a barrier in place when handling ready-to-eat foods.  Many establishments choose gloves.  They do not need to be worn with raw foods or foods that will be cooked to a kill temp prior to service.
2) Glove use must be confined to food preparation and careful attention paid to the kinds of foods and surfaces they handle in the process.  For instance, do not prep raw product and then shift to prepping ready-to-eat items without a glove change.  Gloves can be vehicles of cross-contamination.  If you touch a food that isn't ready-to-eat, or touch a surface you wouldn't consider clean enough to eat from, you should change gloves.
3) Gloves are not needed to sweep the floor or take out the garbage!  Yeah, it seems commonsense, but it had to be said.  Let's not go there.
4) Gloves are not a substitute for hand washing.
5) Gloves cannot be reused. Yep, throw them out when you are done.  Don't pile the dirty ones on the counter, toss them in the back of the pastry bin, or daintily slip them off in the hopes it will make them easier to slip back on.
6) Hands must be washed prior to gloving and between glove changes.  Why?  Easy.  Think about the way you pull gloves out of the box.  You have to touch the food contact portion.  Anything that is on your hands gets on the gloves and thus on the food defeating the point of gloving.  And what's on your hands?  Lots of fun stuff from the gooey residue that builds up between your hand and the glove, to any kind of contaminants from other prep activities or yes--  the lovely money you just took from the last customer. 

So-- that's the crash course in gloving.  Yes there are many things to consider and yes, to use gloves properly it takes a lot of hand washing.  Keep in mind that the City-County Health Code does not require gloves, just a barrier.  If you can use utensils or tongs in place of them, it may streamline your process.  And, if you simply cannot prepare a certain kind of food with gloves or other barrier, we do allow for establishments to apply for a glove exemption.  If you are one who is interested in this option, please contact your inspector.

Hand washing/Handling/Hygiene
August 11, 2010

Gloves: Best When Used Properly

Recently, I took a trip to the state of Washington to visit family.  During the trip, I had a chance to visit a variety of food and beverage purveyors... everything from Subway and fine seafood restaurants, to some fabulous breweries and wineries... guess which ones were my favorite :).    I must admit, that while my body was on vacation, my eyes and inspector senses were still quite honed, and with one exception, I was quite impressed with what I saw.  In almost every establishment waitstaff did a fabulous job of washing hands between busing tables and carrying out plates of food.  Waitresses had their hair nicely restrained and staff members did a great job of keeping patio doors closed to keep pests out.  All the menus I perused had warnings about the consumption of undercooked foods, and I was quite impressed with the care paid to family member of mine who has severe food allergies.  There you go... bravo Washington.  And yes, way to go P.F. Chang's on the lovely Great Wall of Chocolate Cake... delectable... all 2200 calories of it.

I was however, quite perturbed by some practices I observed at an upscale restaurant I patronized my last night. For one, the glasses that appeared unused were utilized in the next place setting, the cooking staff missed hand washes between glove changes, allergens were not fully disclosed and... the most disturbing thing as far as I was concerned, was the nasty pair of gloves worn by the guy who brought out my food.  Yes, they were sweaty to the point of being translucent-- obviously not changed in a while, and so covered in grease he could hardly hold on to the plates.  For starters, waiters do not need to wear gloves.  Although Washington does have different regulations, I never observed this practice at any other establishment, and with my exposure to the food safety biz I cannot see how that would be required unless the waiter couldn't avoid touching the food-- like sans plate.  In fact, food preparers do not even need to wear gloves unless they have to directly handle ready-to-eat food.  That being said, let's discuss why "global glove use", or wearing gloves for every task, is a problem in food service.  An obvious concern is that gloves are less likely to get changed when needed.  Gloves worn to handle everything from food to the garbage can act as vectors for contamination.  Knowing when to wear gloves, when to wash hands and how to keep gloves to select tasks, will minimize the chances for cross-contamination from poor handling. 

So-- kudos to the majority of the establishments I visited, and as for you Missoulians, please keep best practices in mind.  Not only will it help prevent food borne illness, but you never know when a health inspector is watching!

Hand washing/Hygiene
July 9, 2010

Hand Washing: Summertime... ANYTIME!

After visiting family and friends over the holiday weekend, a fellow inspector and I were talking about how hand washing seems to fall by the wayside during the summer, especially with kids.  We need to keep in mind that all of our favorite outdoor activities can bring us in contact with recreational waters, animals and unclean surfaces that can harbor pathogens, many of which can be transmitted by food if we contaminate it with unwashed hands.  For instance, the lovely turtles in the ditch can carry Salmonella spp., surfaces can have Norovirus waiting for an opportunity to strike and E. coli can be found in a lot of our outdoor environments.  Yes-- it's not just Aunt Gertrude's potato salad that can cause gastrointestinal distress!

While I realize that hand washing is difficult at many of our favorite summertime venues, you need to make the effort to do so before grabbing that ice cream cone.  Hand washing is the first step in illness prevention, especially before preparing, serving or eating foods, and for those of you who work in a food establishment, being extra vigilant of hand washing and illness prevention is so important-- both inside and outside the restaurant.  You have to stay healthy to work. 

So... while that ice cream cone may hit the spot, wash your hands first, or else those little turtles may not be as cute as you thought.

Hand Washing and Hygiene

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