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Medicals for Food Handlers

A food handler is a person who, in the course of their normal routine work, come into contact with uncovered food not intended for their personal use.

An extensive set of regulations are applicable to all food handlers, including those working in restaurants, cafés, shebeens and taverns, as well as caterers/suppliers at special events.

Food safety risks transcend an individual company, sector and even country, making it of global importance that employers prioritise the safety and health of their workers who handle food. Regular medicals and surveillance are crucial in the prevention of food-borne diseases.

Not only do we offer a complete medical examination with biological monitoring for salmonella, E.coli, tuberculosis and so forth, but we also educate employees about the importance of food safety in the organisational culture of a food business.

Our medicals are complemented by health interviews. They comprise the completion of a questionnaire by the employee and are aimed at a general assessment of a person’s suitability for work as a food handler in terms of demeanour, appearance and cleanliness. All relevant aspects related to environmental health matters and best practice of food handling are included in the questionnaire.

R638: Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises, the Transport of Food and Related Matters

The following conditions disqualify a person temporarily from food handling:

Eye infections
Inflammation and/or discharge from ears
Oral sepsis
Staphylococcal conditions or infections, ie recurrent boils or open sores/skin lesions
Recent history of gastrointestinal infection
Food Handling Medicals

In addition, R638: Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises, the Transport of Food and Related Matters gazetted in 2018 states that:

Food, a facility or a container may not be handled by a person:

(a).
who has on his or her body a suppurating abscess or a sore, a cut or an abrasion, including other infected skin lesions, unless covered with a moisture-proof dressing which is firmly secured to prevent contamination of the food;
(b) (i).
who has reported or who is suspected of suffering from or being a carrier of a disease or condition in its contagious stage likely to be transmitted through food, which includes jaundice, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, sore throat with fever and discharges from the ear, eye or nose;
(b) (ii).
a person referred to in subparagraph (i) may only resume handling food, a facility or a container if the person submits a certificate by a medical practitioner stating that the person is fit to handle food;
(c).
whose hands or clothing are not clean.

The following rule with regard to the length of exclusions from work after specific illness should apply:

Hepatitis A: 6 weeks from onset of jaundice.
Salmonella food poisoning, cholera, dysentery and typhoid: 3 consecutive negative stool specimens taken 48 hours apart.
Parasite worms and other parasite conditions: until successfully treated.
Tuberculosis: 7 days from onset of effective treatment.

These measures are taken to protect the person’s co-workers and the public from becoming infected from contaminated food products.

Did you know?

Food handlers are required to report any illness and should ensure that they are at all times clean of person and wear clean protective clothing. Harmful pathogenic organisms, bacteria, viruses and parasites are known to cause over 250 known food-borne diseases.

The bacteria most frequently associated with food-borne diseases are:

DiseaseSourceFoods Involved
Staphylococcus aureusNasal passages and skin of food handlers and animals.
Frequently formed wounds and cuts.
Live chickens often carry Staphylococcus aureus and it can contaminate carcasses during abattoir processing.
Meats (including poultry).
Meat products, salads, dairy products (cheese).
Clostridium perfringensRaw meats, part of the intestinal flora of animals.Cooked (cold or reheated) red meat, poultry.
SalmonellaGastrointestinal contamination, usually from animal origin. Raw products of animal origin.Meat, poultry, eggs and egg products.
CampylobacteriosisIntestinal tract of animals.Raw milk, eggs, meat and poultry.
ListeriosisIt grows well in refrigeration temperatures and would be found in cooled areas of the abattoir, packaging and further processing areas.Milk, soft cheeses, coleslaw, processed meat.
YersiniosisFound in the gastrointestinal tract of mammals and birds and has been isolated from faecal material, throats, tongues and lymph nodes of swine.Raw milk, seafood, non-chlorinated water, pork products.
BotulismThe organism is a common soil contaminant.Home-canned, low-acid foods that are improperly processed.
E.coliIntestine of warm-blooded animals.Meat, especially ground beef, which has not been cooked sufficiently to kill the bacteria. Coleslaw, sprouts, lettuce, salami, unpasteurised milk.

FAQs

01. How often should a food handler undergo a medical?
It is imperative that workers who handle food must be free from illness. We recommend that employees be subjected to pre-employment, periodic/annual as well as exit medicals. It is the only way to ensure you safeguard your business against any liability stemming from food-borne diseases.
02. How is the handling of food regulated?
R638: Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises, the Transport of Food and Related Matters were gazetted in 2018 and replaced R962. These regulations are applicable to all food handling situations, including at restaurants, cafés, shebeens and taverns, as well as to caterers/suppliers at special events.
03. What is a certificate of acceptability?
A certificate of acceptability is issued by the relevant local authority and is required before food can be handled by any person, including those involved in food handling at special events. It is clearly explained in R638 above.
04. When is exclusion from work not required?
Infection with viruses and bacteria is not the only cause of diarrhoea and vomiting. Exclusion from work is not required where there is good evidence of a non-infective cause of the symptoms, including morning sickness during pregnancy, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and if the person consumed too much alcohol or spicy food.

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