Food Safety and Inspection
National Advisory Committee on
Updated November 21, 2001
National Advisory Committee on Microbiological
Criteria for Foods
Based on data presented, the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (the Committee) finds that bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods can contribute to the transmission of foodborne illness. In principle, this transmission can be interrupted.
Available data suggest that a preventable cause of foodborne illness related to bare hand contact is the handling of ready-to-eat foods by foodworkers with a disease or medical condition as defined in section 2-201 in the 1999 Food Code.
The first preventive strategy to interrupt transmission of foodborne illness is the exclusion/restriction of ill food workers from contact with ready-to-eat foods and food contact surfaces. This prevents not only transmission to the public, but also to other employees who, if infected, further extend the chain of transmission.
Exclusion/restriction of ill workers by itself is not sufficient to halt transmission of foodborne pathogens from infected food workers. Persons who are infected but asymptomatic can also transmit foodborne pathogens. Hence, proper handwashing is an essential and integral component of a strategy (such as that outlined in 2-3 of the 1999 Food Code) aimed at interrupting transmission of foodborne pathogens through bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. In addition, handwashing helps control cross contamination from other sources.
The Committee concludes that minimizing bare hand contact with ready-to-eat food provides an additional means, of interrupting disease transmission, when used in combination with the exclusion/restriction of ill foodworkers and proper handwashing. However, most members of the Committee deemed the available scientific data insufficient to support a blanket prohibition of bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods.
Implementation of all three interventions outlined above will require education and motivation of food workers and managers.
The Committee noted that additional research is needed on the benefits, disadvantages, and public health outcomes of bare hand contact with ready-to-eat foods.
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