Keeping it clean – hygiene in the workplace

6 March, 2018

In all cases, workplace hygiene is important, but for the catering industry it is business critical. Phil Youdan, a partner in the food team at law firm Cripps Pemberton Greenish, provides practical advice on the law in this area and considers how achieving higher standards could also help your business grow.

Firstly, think more broadly – it’s not just hand-washing. Ask someone what is meant by “hygiene in the workplace” and the response may be surprising – varying from having clean, attractive communal facilities through to air free from harmful pollutants.

One way of categorising the importance to your business is to consider internal and external factors. Internal factors, for example, may focus on recruitment and retention of employees. Consider how a high standard of hygiene might help make your business an attractive one for current and potential staff. The workplace environment is a key factor in achieving this as it is directly linked with keeping employees happy and content and making them feel valued.

Another internal factor directly impacted by hygiene is productivity. It is beyond dispute that maintaining basic hygiene standards will reduce the spread of illnesses within your workforce. Your objective could be to prevent bacteria and viruses spreading among staff or longer term respiratory illness caused by poor quality air in your food production area. In either case, improving hygiene will impact on the health of employees and therefore productivity.

Using more automation in your processes may also bring dual benefits here – consider for example how the use of machinery rather than hands in some tasks could reduce cases of dermatitis (a very common complaint among catering staff) linked to exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals or more frequent hand-washing, as well as helping to keep your processes more sterile.

External factors relate to people outside of your business. The most obvious of these are your clients and potential clients. For them, your image is vital and achieving high standards of personal, food and workplace hygiene will be key. Consider also the value of displaying your food hygiene rating, for example (which is not yet compulsory in England).

So what should businesses do to tackle this issue? Introduce a workplace hygiene policy, if you haven’t already done so, to cover the standards expected of your workforce. The Food Standards Agency website is a good place to start.

Secondly, where the nature of your business involves a risk to the health of employees or others, undertaking risk assessments and implanting the recommendations of these is necessary to avoid a breach of health and safety legislation.

Remember, hygiene is relevant to enforcement bodies such as the HSE, which in January 2018 announced a programme of inspections targeting the food manufacturing sector, focussing on occupational asthma caused by exposure to flour dust. The adverse publicity that a contract caterer would attract from public sanctions for breaching hygiene standards should be enough on its own to encourage full compliance, but the added potential benefits from good practice as outlined above means the issue should be getting top priority.

If you would like to know more about the legal implications of food hygiene, or other related issues, contact Philip Youdan on

This article first appeared in B&I magazine.