Encouraging employees, visitors and customers to clean their hands regularly can help them stay well this winter. Chris Wakefield, Vice President, European Marketing & Product Development, GOJO Industries-Europe Ltd explains how companies in the hospitality and leisure sector can minimise the impact of seasonal viruses by encouraging good hand hygiene
The winter months traditionally see an increase in viral illnesses. From the common cold and influenza, to norovirus – more commonly known as the winter vomiting bug – these highly contagious viruses are unpleasant to say the least, and in worst case scenarios can even prove fatal.
Outbreaks of infection of any kind can not only impact the health of customers and employees but can have long-lasting implications for the reputation of any hotel, restaurant, or hospitality establishment. The threat of negative publicity, especially in today’s world of social media, means that excellent hygiene must be upheld at all times. Guests and staff alike should leave a facility feeling as well and happy as they did when they arrived.
The problem is that these dangerous pathogens are difficult to contain. They can spread so quickly and easily – and not just through airborne droplets from infected coughs and sneezes. Did you know that 80% of illnesses are transmitted via the hands(1)? That’s not all – germs can live on hard surfaces and survive for longer than you might think, contaminating the people that touch them. Norovirus, for example, can survive on surfaces for up to 12 days(2) and is one of the more common winter illnesses to tarnish the reputation of hospitality establishments.
Minimising the impact
No establishment is immune to the risks of infection, however, there are steps businesses can take to prevent its spread and lessen the impact. The simple act of hand washing can make a huge difference to health, helping to prevent the spread of germs and reduce the chances of getting sick in the first place. This not only ensures a resilient workforce during the colder months, but also safeguards the personal health and well-being of guests and visitors.
It is therefore vital that those working in the hospitality, leisure and catering industry, particularly kitchen and waiting staff, have access to hand washing and sanitising facilities, and that they use them diligently. Businesses should ensure all staff are properly trained in hand hygiene procedures (and that they wash or sanitise their hands thoroughly and frequently), as well as in the correct procedures to keep food contact areas clean, safe, and hygienic.
Front-of-house is equally important
In addition to back-of-house areas, businesses should consider hand hygiene systems for their front-of-house. According to the FSA’s Biannual Public Attitudes Tracker last year, 84% people reported being aware of the hygiene standards in places they eat out at or buy food from(3). If customers and guests suspect there is a hygiene issue in the front-of-house, they are likely to assume there are more issues behind the scenes too.
Guests’ facilities are a good place to start when it comes to hand hygiene. After all, the washroom plays an important role in customer perception. Unclean or unsanitary facilities can leave a negative impression of the overall establishment. It is also one of the most critical areas of an establishment in terms of infection prevention, being a prime hot-spot for germs.
Encouraging hygienic behaviour
Providing handwashing or sanitising facilities is only part of the solution. To be effective, every member of staff and guest must make use of them. Research has shown that one in four people do not wash their hands after using the washroom (4), and of those that do wash, 46% don’t do so for long enough for it to be effective (5). Businesses must therefore actively encourage compliance, especially during winter when germs are rife.
To successfully influence healthy behaviour, hand washing or sanitising facilities must be accessible and dispensers simple to operate. They must be equipped with pleasant, yet effective formulations that will not irritate or dry out skin. In commercial kitchens and food preparation areas, only formulations that comply with international food taint testing standard EN 4120:2007 should be considered. This provides assurance that they are safe for use in food handling.
For front-of-house areas, consider also installing hand sanitising stations by the main entrance/exit – this can help prevent viruses from entering the building and being transferred onto common surfaces such as reception desks or lift buttons.
Research has shown that one single contaminated door handle can infect up to 60% of the occupants of a building within just four hours (6) so placing a hand sanitiser dispenser at the washroom exit is also a good idea. After all, if people have not washed their hands properly, germs can be transmitted onto the door handle (and other surfaces that they touch) when they leave the washroom.
Awareness and education
Awareness-raising and educative signs and notices can also have a big impact on compliance. They act as a prompt, reminding staff and guests not only to wash or sanitise their hands, but how to do so effectively. A host of resources, including eye-catching signage, training materials and checklists, is available to download for free at www.winter-wellness.eu, a website dedicated to boosting winter wellness.
By ensuring that effective, easy-to-use hand hygiene products are readily available at all the critical touch points, and actively reminding both staff and guests to use them, businesses in the hospitality, leisure and catering industry can guard against the risk of infection and enjoy a healthier germ season.
(1) 2013 meta-analysis of germ transmission data by Dr. Gerba, University of Arizona
(2) Hata B et al. Clin Infect Dis 2004; 39:1182 | Kramer A et al. BMC Infect Dis 2006; 6:130 | Havill NL. et al. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2014; 35:445 | Weber DJ et al. Infect Control Hosp Epidermiol 2015
(4) “Clean Living.” News Center, Press Releases. American Society for Microbiology and The Soap and Detergent Association, Sept. 2007.
(5) 2008 SDA Clean Hands Report Card® sponsored by the Soap and Detergent Association.