Sanitary Design: Across The Board

The Right Tool For The Job


Perhaps you’ve tried to do a job at home and said to yourself, “This would be so easy if I had the right tools!”  Aficionados of home improvement shows know that the projects seem so easy simply because the host always magically has every specialty tool that they need.  


This same idea -- the right tool for the job -- can be applied to all industries. In the food, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, this plays out in “sanitary design.”


What Is Sanitary Design?


Sanitary design means setting things up for sanitary conditions right from the start. This applies to buildings, equipment, and even the clothing worn by workers.


Think about it: it’s much easier to keep a food plant clean if the floors are properly sloped to ensure drainage, the walls are made of smooth, easily-cleanable materials. and that the wall/floor juncture is coved to allow water to run away from the walls. 90° angles can easily trap water and debris, and are hard to clean.


The Law Regarding Worker Clothing


Let’s take a look at what your workers are supposed to wear. In the Code of Federal Regulations, the regulation states the following;


(b) Cleanliness. All persons working in direct contact with food, food-contact surfaces, and food-packaging materials must conform to hygienic practices while on duty to the extent necessary to protect against allergen cross-contact and against contamination of food. The methods for maintaining cleanliness include:


(1) Wearing outer garments … in a manner that protects against allergen cross-contact and against the contamination of food, food-contact surfaces, or food-packaging materials...


(6) Wearing… hair nets, headbands, caps, beard covers, or other effective hair restraints.


(7) Storing clothing or other personal belongings in areas other than where food is exposed or where equipment or utensils are washed.


The regulation does not specifically define what plant workers and visitors must wear, but it does set basic guidelines.  This kind of regulation is known as an “interpretive regulation”. In other words, it gives each company options for compliance. The key wording is “protect against allergen cross-contact and contamination of food.”


Okay, so, what is appropriate? It really depends upon the operation. A processor that is manufacturing aseptic beverages or puddings in a closed system will face different issues than a plant that processes and packages ready-to-eat products like smoked salmon or luncheon meats. Let’s get specific.


Safe Clothing in Sanitary Design


  1. Safety-oriented clothing should be comfortable and not prone to shredding or shedding.


  1. Clothing should be secured with snaps or Velcro.


  1. Some companies favor smocks which tie in the back. These are good work clothes, but some safety experts discourage ties, which could conceivably get caught in moving machinery parts.


  1. Make sure there are no pockets located above the waist. Why? If someone has a pocket, they will inevitably something in it (like a pen), which could fall out and end up in the food.


  1. Garments provided by the company must fit properly so they don’t pose any kind of risk.


  1. Look for breathable fabrics, which are more pleasant to wear. Workers in a hot environment wearing garments made from polyester are going to get very uncomfortable.


  1. Workers must have a place to change from street clothes to work clothes. This should be a place where they feel that they, and their valuables, are secure.


  1. You will also need to set up a system for cleaning and sanitizing worker clothes. This can be done in-house or through a contract company. Whichever you choose, it’s important to ensure that laundry is done correctly. That means washing, drying, storage and handling not only to clean the garments, but to protect them from contamination once they are cleaned.


  1. Another part of the equation is hair restraints. You’ll need hair nets or beard nets (snoods) to cover all hair on the head and face. Hair restraints come in different styles and weaves, so find something that is effective and comfortable. Also consider color when selecting hair restraints. Light-colored hair restraints allow managers to more easily monitor workers, since they can see if they are being worn, and if they are being worn correctly. If your work force has dark hair, black or brown hair nets really don’t allow your managers to easily monitor compliance.


  1. Sometimes, sanitary design includes boots, safety shoes, plastic sleeves, masks or gloves.  


  1. A critical piece to the Sanitary Design equation is education.  Make sure that your workforce is taught not only what they must wear, but also how to wear it properly.


  1. The final note in the system is compliance. Your managers must know that their duty is to enforce the safety rules within your company. Of course, they shouldn't be looking to “catch” and “punish” people, but offenders place themselves, their colleagues, and your company at risk, and they need to be reined in. Safety rules are no joke, and the consequences for violations can be very scary. This is why enforcing the rules is so vital.


In summary, if you give your workers the right tools, the right environment, the right training, and the right supervision, then you are using a Sanitary Design approach.


Glove Mismatch: Wrong Glove for the Right Job

Your employees wear protective gloves while working, so their hands are completely safe. Right?

Well, maybe.

The truth is that in workplaces across the world, workers are wearing the wrong gloves for the job. Protective gloves are not one-size-fits-all, and the cheapest option will not work for every application. Even more surprisingly, a very cut-resistant glove that provides maximum protection may still not be the right glove for your application. Why? Here’s the lowdown.

Cut Resistance: The Basics

If you’re running an ice cream parlor and need your employees serving the ice cream to wear gloves for sanitary reasons, you don’t need to worry about cut resistance at all. In this case, there’s no need to buy gloves made of stronger materials; instead, opt for comfortable poly gloves.

But let’s say your employees are handling more than just an ice cream scoop. Let’s say they’re hospital employees, handling instruments that can cause cuts and lacerations. In this case, you’ll want gloves that are much more cut resistant, but still allow them to have the dexterity they’ll need. Your best bet, in this case, might be 3 to 5 mil nitrile gloves.

Now imagine that you’re in the pest control industry, and your employees may have to deal with rabid animals or stinging insects. In these cases, you’ll want to choose gloves that are extremely strong, such as those made from Kevlar or metal mesh. You might also want to look into options that include gauntlets or extended sleeves to protect your employees’ arms.

You’ll also want to think about whether your employees’ hands will be exposed to caustic chemicals or intense heat. Either of these situations would require different glove specifications.

Some gloves also include a gripping surface to deal with slippery surfaces, such as those covered with motor oil. Workers in the automotive industry may prefer this option.

The Dangers of Overgloving

So why not just buy the most protective glove possible, no matter what the job? Besides the added expense, the most protective glove may still not be the best option for your needs. Gloves with higher levels of cut resistance tend to have lower levels of dexterity. For example, a surgeon would have a hard time using a metal mesh glove, because it would be difficult to maneuver the fingers in the precise way to perform surgery. Using an overly protective glove, in this case, could severely compromise the surgeon’s ability to successfully complete his job.

In addition, if your employees view the protective gloves as too restricting and uncomfortable, they may decide to avoid using the gloves altogether. This can put them at a far higher risk of hand injury than if they had been provided with adequate -- but not as strong -- protective gloves.


Glove Size

In addition to looking at cut resistance and material, you’ll also want to make sure that the gloves are sized correctly. Gloves that are overly large can be difficult to manipulate, and gloves that are too small can tire out the employee’s hands, plus they are prone to tearing more easily.

If you choose the wrong glove for the application, you may be putting your worker’s safety in jeopardy, while thinking that you’re actually ensuring their safety. So no matter which industry you work in, choosing the right glove for each application is essential.

Keep Hair Where It Belongs


Have you ever had the misfortune to find a hair in your food? Most of us can unfortunately answer “Yes” to that unsavory experience.  That hair probably did not make you sick, but it could certainly ruin a meal or discourage you from ever buying the product that contained the hair ever again.

The picture below is of a cookie that was offered as a snack at a sanitation workshop presented many years ago. The cookie became a great teaching aid, as it emphasized the importance of good personal hygiene, and especially the use of hair restraints.  Hair, whether it is on the head, face, or arms, will fall out eventually.  That’s what hair does. Look at your comb or brush after you comb your hair -- there are always a few hairs -- so the trick is to keep those hairs out of food that is being prepared or processed.


Food Processors vs. Foodservice Operators

Food processors spend thousands of dollars each year to keep foreign materials, including hair, out of their products. Part of the program is outfitting workers  in a food plant with hair restraints.  These include hair nets, snoods, or beard nets, and in many cases, sleeves. (Yes, hair on arms may end up in product.)

It is a shame that foodservice and restaurant operators generally don’t have the same commitment. While some do require hairnets, many restaurants don’t require that their employees use any kind of hair restraints, and others feel that baseball caps or tall chefs hats are adequate. They aren’t.  

The food processing industry does a pretty good job when it comes to keeping hair out of food, but it could do better. Let’s consider the basics of a program designed to keep hair out of foods and ingredients.

Elements of an Effective Program

The first step is an element that the processor has little control over: personal hygiene. Good hygiene keeps the hair clean, and it also provides a side benefit. Washing the hair flushes out loose hairs that have fallen out.

The next step is ensuring that the workforce properly contains the hair. It’s up to the company to provide the garments (hair restraints and sleeves), and to make sure that the workers understand why it’s important to wear them.

The Basics: Hair Restraints, Beard Restraints, and Sleeves  

Hair restraints come in many names, sizes, colors and formats. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know.

Names. Hair restraints go by many titles. They may be called “hairnets,” “bouffants,” or something else.

Format means weaves or apertures. There are hair nets that have a very fine weave with extremely small apertures (< 1/16 inch) and those with course weaves (1/4 inch or more). The smaller the aperture, the greater the probability hair will be properly restrained and contained.

Color is actually an important consideration. Among the colors offered by Gloves by Web are white, blue, green, red, orange, pink, and yellow. A company should choose a hair restraint that will allow management to determine, at a glance, that the hair restraint is being worn properly. This is why black or brown hair restraints are a bad idea; it’s really hard to see whether someone with dark hair is wearing their hairnet properly.  We also offer hairnets and bouffant caps in different colors so that companies can color-coordinate your work zones and prevent cross-contamination.

How beard and moustache restraints are worn is another issue that must be addressed.  Some operations try and establish policies that define the size or configuration of moustaches and whether a restraint is required (for example, “If the moustache does not go below the top lip, no restraint is required.”) If a man wishes to sport a beard or moustache, he will have to wear a restraint of some sort.

The next element in building a program for restraining hair is to properly educate the work force on how to wear the gear, and to make certain that supervisors are overseeing proper use.  The basic rules are:

  1. Hair nets should cover the hair and the ears.
  2. All hair should be restrained within the net.
  3. Hair restraints must be worn by every worker entering the processing area, even those workers with shaved heads.  
  4. No exceptions.

Education is the key.  When hiring new employees, personal hygiene and how to properly wear uniforms and hair restraints must be part of the orientation process. If your workforce includes employees who don’t speak English well, make sure your training and materials are bilingual. The subject of hygiene and hair restraints should be addressed during yearly refresher training sessions. In addition, it’s a good idea to post pictures that show the right and wrong way to wear a hair net, snood and sleeves, if they are required. Many companies get their people to pose for these pictures to promote a sense of ownership and make them feel more involved.

Finally, it is up to the supervisors to be sure that the work force follows the rules.  If they observe someone without hair restraints or wearing one or more items improperly, they need to take action.

The photograph here shows a situation in which management was simply “asleep at the switch.” The company mandates that hair nets be worn, yet the workers in the picture are not complying.


So, to help keep hair out of foods, food processors (and restaurant operators) need to select the proper hair restraints for the people, set policies on how they are to be worn, train the workforce  on these policies, and make sure management enforces the policies that have been set.  Hair may not make someone sick, but it is not something that anyone wants to find in their food. Food processors and restaurant operators rely on repeat sales.  That single hair could cost you a customer -- so do what you can to keep hair out of your products.

Pictures used with permission of Richard F. Stier