Your Staff’s Footwear May Increase Your Risk of Food Contamination Outbreaks

Staff Footwear ContaminationContamination in our food has sadly become a frequent event in our culture. Food recalls seem to happen on a daily basis, affecting everything from your grocery list to mass food production facilities. Chipotle’s continued outbreaks are just one example of how even large chains can be affected. While you can’t completely contain bacteria, there are numerous ways to significantly reduce the risk of an outbreak at your restaurant or food production facility.

At the top of the list is establishing a top down food safety culture priority. When it’s important to management, it will be important to the staff. It’s easy to tell when food safety is not a priority at an establishment or facility. Just take a quick look at the bathroom (where many germs can originate from) to gain an instant insight into that location’s food safety priorities. You may not think a clean bathroom is a tell-tale sign, but consider this…

According to the World Health Organization, 50% of diarrheal disease-associated deaths could be reduced through regular handwashing with soap and water. Not only that, but 96% of shoes tested in a University of Arizona study held coliform and E. coli bacteria – indicating frequent contact with fecal material, likely from restroom floors or outdoor animal feces.

At this point, everyone knows the importance of hand hygiene, but footwear hygiene can get overlooked. Considering what’s on your shoes, this can be a huge area of concern. In the University of Arizona study, the shoes they tested averaged between 421,000 units of bacteria PER shoe! What’s worse is that the bacteria from the shoes were directly transferred to clean floor tiles 90% of the time. If your facility doesn’t have a footwear safety standard operating procedure (or doesn’t enforce the one you have,) this cross-contamination is happening. In reality, cleaning footwear needs to be just as high a priority as washing hands.

Luckily, there are a number of ways to help establish a simple procedure for effective footwear safety.

Shoe Covers – Shoe covers or “booties” are designed to be worn over footwear. They can be either disposable or washable. These work best if there is a clear area set aside to put on the covers and dispose of them. However, they could be an issue in regards to keep them supplied in the right sizes for all your staff.

Specialized “Work” Shoes – Some facilities are handling the issue by providing (or requiring) a separate pair of work shoes that are only used in the workplace. While this helps with keeping outside contamination from entering the workplace, it doesn’t help with the spread of bacteria picked up within the workplace. In addition, this could be a prohibitively costly method depending on the size of your workforce.

Shoe Sanitizer Mats – Our last recommended method is actually quite simple. Using shoe sanitizer mats, your staff just needs to step on the mat’s wet surface, gently stamp feet on it or simply walk across the mat so the shoe bottoms and treads are saturated by the disinfectant. Then wipe shoe bottoms on nearby dry floor mat to avoid slipping and continue on their way. Having these mats stationed at key entry points in your facility can cut down on the cross contamination of germs by shoe to floor contact tremendously, and the shoe sanitizer stations only take a few extra minutes out of the workforce’s day to use.

Even with these methods, if there isn’t a strong food safety culture, the chances of your facility having an outbreak increase. With that in mind, for whatever methods you choose to use in your locations, make sure to provided proper training, easy to implement standard operating procedures and effective compliance measurement.

To learn more about the sanitation mats, click here.