Australian employers have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of their workers, and that means office spaces must offer your employees a clean, safe and healthy working environment. A lot of businesses use commercial cleaners to get rid of dirt and grime, but you can also control common food hygiene problems with simple preventive measures. Make sure your office is a safe workplace and focus on the five following food hygiene hazards and controls.
Dirty cutlery and crockery
Your employees can save a lot of money by bringing food into work that they can reheat and eat in the kitchen. If you intend to provide cutlery and crockery, you need to make sure that harmful bacteria don't spread by communal items that your employees don't wash properly.
Install a dishwasher, and put in place a daily roster to load and empty the machine. Put a sign on the machine when a cycle is running, or employees may absent-mindedly toss dirty cutlery in when they need to empty the machine first. Make sure you invest in regular maintenance and cleaning of the machine, and change the filters according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Old food in the fridge
Office fridges are often a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. According to a survey, 67 percent of office workers keep their food in the fridge, but 20 percent report that their employer rarely cleans the fridge. You need to put in place a rigorous refrigeration safety inspection checklist.
Things to check include:
- Temperature (should stay below 40 degrees)
- Use of sealed containers
- Keeping milk upright in the door
- Spills, smells and odours
You should also implement a weekly roster to empty the fridge. Tell staff members that you will discard all food at 3 p.m. each Friday, and then make sure the cleaners tackle the interior with approved cleaning materials.
Many employers allow their people to eat at their desks, but this can create a haven for germs, particularly in shared office spaces. A study by the University of Arizona (USA) found that employee workstations contained 400 times as many microbes as the toilets, with a single desk supporting 10 million bacteria. Phones, keyboards and computer mice are particular problems.
It's important to educate staff about the issue. Some companies now ask employees not to eat at their desk, and it's also a good idea to provide anti-bacterial wipes for spills. According to the study, these wipes can cut bacteria levels by 99 percent. A regular professional cleaner can further support the efforts of your employees to kill germs.
Food poisoning from shared treats
Office workers like to share food and treats, particularly on special occasions, but it's important to avoid the risk of food poisoning. Items left on desks or shared spaces for employees to share can quickly become a food hygiene risk, and may lead to food poisoning.
Educate staff in the principles of food poisoning, highlighting the conditions under which bacteria may grow. In the warmth of an office, even sandwiches and cream cakes can quickly become dangerous. Encourage employees to share safer, long-life treats like biscuits, or make sure they eat chilled foods like cream cakes straight away.
Anaphylaxis is an extreme allergic reaction that is sometimes fatal. As such, employers must take steps to support employees with serious food allergies. Improved awareness and planning can significantly cut the risk of adverse reactions.
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia is a charity that promotes awareness in the workplace, and offers resources for employers to boost safety. The charity recommends that employers regularly remind staff members of the risks, particularly if a colleague has a known allergy. The charity also provides posters and training materials to use in the workplace.
Food hygiene is a serious problem for employers, who need to take steps to make sure their employees are not at risk. Carefully consider problem areas in your office, and make sure you have the right measures in place to deal with food hygiene risks.