Working with food – food safety and employer responsibilities

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

working with foodAlthough we should all take precautions when we cook or handle food, those who work with food need to be particularly stringent. Food handlers can pass on the germs that cause symptoms such as sickness or diarrhoea to others through poor hygiene practice, or by being sick themselves and then coming to work. The good news is that by following some simple steps to improve food hygiene, this can be avoided.

Food safety precautions

People who work with food should always follow basic food safety to ensure the highest standards of food hygiene possible. This includes washing hands at the following times:

  • before and after food preparation, particularly after touching raw meat, poultry, fish, eggs or unwashed vegetables;
  • after going to the toilet;
  • after coughing or sneezing/using tissues;
  • after touching or emptying the bin;
  • after touching a cut or sore;
  • after cleaning;
  • after touching phones, light switches, door handles and cash registers;
  • after breaks.

But food safety isn’t just about hand washing. The following precautions should also be taken.

  • Wear the appropriate clothing – clean clothes and the appropriate protective equipment such as an apron or gloves.
  • Tie back hair and use a hair net if necessary.
  • Dress any cuts as soon as possible with a brightly coloured, waterproof plaster.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Ensure nails are cut very short and cleaned with a nailbrush.

Prevention is better than cure in the case of food hygiene, and it is best practice to ensure that unnecessary visitors are excluded from food handling areas in order to minimise the risk of infection. Direct contact between food and food contact surfaces should also be minimised.

Sickness and working with food

If you have any of the following symptoms, you should inform your manager immediately and not come into work:

  • diarrhoea and vomiting;
  • stomach pain (that is not period pain);
  • a fever;
  • nausea;
  • infected skin, nose or throat.

If the sickness begins whilst you are at work, you should inform your manager and leave the premises as soon as possible. Any surfaces you have come into contact with should be cleaned quickly and thoroughly.

You shouldn’t return to work for 48 hours after your symptoms stop.

Food handling – employer responsibilities

Employers should ensure that their staff are made aware of good hygiene practice and what to do if they are ill. They should also exclude anyone with the symptoms above from working with open food and ensure they do not return to work until 48 hours after their symptoms cease. Note that there are some cases where the symptoms above are not infectious, for example, when a person is suffering from morning sickness or irritable bowel syndrome. In cases such as these, the individual may not need to be excluded from work.

Returning to working with food after sickness absence

When staff return to work after an infectious illness, employers may wish to conduct a return to work interview to ensure the employee is properly recovered and able to return to work. The employee should also be advised to take extra care when washing their hands.

For more information on food hygiene, see the Food Standards Agency website. For further advice on health issues related to working with food, call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 (English) or 0800 032 6233 (Welsh) or visit the Advice Hub. Those in Scotland can call 0800 019 2211 or visit

Staff who have been off work with sickness for four weeks or more can be referred by their employer for a Fit for Work assessment. For more details, visit or see this post.

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