Skin problems in catering businesses

Does this concern me?

Yes, it concerns you if:

  • your business prepares/handles a lot of food;
  • your employees have to wash their hands a lot during the day to meet food safety laws;
  • you have employees who clean kitchen surfaces, ovens, pots, pans and kitchen utensils.

Why is this a problem for my catering business?

Work-related dermatitis (often called eczema) is one of the main causes of ill-health for catering staff (chefs, cooks and catering assistants). The number of new cases per year is twice the average of all other industries.

If one of your catering staff had to leave their job because they had developed dermatitis that couldn't be cured, what effect would it have on your business? Remember that work-related ill health can cost more than twice as much as an accident causing injury. Could you afford this?

The good news is that it's easy to prevent dermatitis and if you are following good practice for food safety, you are well on your way to protecting your employees from dermatitis too.

What should I do about it?

Use the APC approach:

  • Avoid direct contact between unprotected hands and cleaning products, water and food where this is sensible and practical. For instance:
    • Use a dishwasher rather than washing up by hand.
    • Use tools such as tongs to handle food rather than hands.
    • Use a food processor for chopping or mixing.
  • Protect the skin. Avoiding contact will not always be possible so:
    • Wear appropriate gloves where you can and particularly when carrying out all cleaning activities.
    • Information on what types of gloves to wear will be supplied with the cleaning products.
    • Where you wear gloves for handling food, remember your food safety training, so wash your hands before and after wearing gloves, avoid cross contamination, use single-use non-latex disposable gloves.
    • Provide soft, disposable paper towels for drying the skin.
    • Also protect the skin by moisturising as often as possible and particularly at the end of the day – this replaces the natural oils that help keep the skin's protective barrier working properly.
    • Use appropriate creams that will not contaminate food or cause cross-contamination, eg from a dispenser, hypoallergenic, and either non-tainting or free of fragrance and free of nut oil.
  • Check hands regularly for the first signs of dermatitis – itchy, dry or red skin:
    • When dermatitis is spotted early, it can be treated, which can stop it from getting too bad.
    • Checking for dermatitis can easily be included in your sickness arrangements for food safety.

Your staff need to know about the simple steps. Training and information resources can help you to inform and train employees.

What about food safety and dermatitis?

You may recognise some of these suggestions, as these are also good food safety techniques. Following the APC approach for preventing dermatitis is similar to the many of the best practice controls promoted for food safety, as demonstrated in the table below.

Examples of good food safety methods APC approach
Dishwashers wash things at a high temperature. This is great for killing bacteria. Avoid direct contact
  • Use a dishwasher rather than washing by hand.
Avoid handling food as much as possible. Hands can easily spread harmful bacteria onto food. Avoid direct contact
  • Use automated processes where practicable, eg mixing / kneading by machine rather than by hand, automatic potato peelers.
  • Use tools for handling food rather than hands, eg tongs, scoops.
Remove jewellery (except wedding bands) for work. Jewellery can collect and spread harmful bacteria or fall in food. Protect the skin
  • Remove jewellery (except wedding bands) for work.
  • Jewellery can trap water and cleaning products next to the skin and cause dermatitis.
Hand hygiene is important for food safety. Dermatitis causes sore hands and workers may not wash them thoroughly or as often because it hurts. Check the skin for early signs of dermatitis
  • Early detection stops serious dermatitis from developing.
  • Early treatment means better recovery.
  • Checks help indicate lapses in controls.

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Updated 2023-02-16