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Skin problems in the food industry

Any business that prepares or handles food could be putting its employees at risk of developing skin problems. Employees who are required to wash their hands a lot to meet safety laws and those who have to clean surfaces where food has been handled or utensils used with food could also be at risk.

Work-related dermatitis is one of the main causes of ill-health in the food industry. The number of new cases per year is twice the average of all other industries.


Work-related ill health can cost an employer more than twice as much as an accident causing injury so it is worth doing all you can to protect your employees.

What should I do?

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.

To ensure your employees are protected the following procedures should be implemented:

When possible and practical, direct contact should be avoided between unprotected hands and cleaning products, water and food. 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.

Avoiding contact will not always be possible so the next step would be to protect the skin. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Non-latex gloves should be provided and worn where possible, particularly when carrying out cleaning activities.
  • When wearing gloves to handle food, hands should be washed before putting the gloves on and after the gloves have been removed. Cross contamination should be avoided and single-use disposable gloves should be the type that are provided.
  • Soft, disposable paper towels should be provided for drying the skin.
  • The skin can be protected 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. Appropriate moisturiser that will not contaminate food or cause cross-contamination should be provided for use by employees.

All employees who are at risk should have their hands checked regularly for signs of dermatitis. Early signs include 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.RHheadshot

If you would like any further advice on this, please contact our Health & Safety Management Team on 01302 341 344.

By Rachel Hamill LLB (Hons) DipCII

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