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Monday, 9 September 2013


One of the many ways to measure how much you trust fresh food handling services is to stand for five or ten minutes observing people as they make sandwiches, pizzas, handle meat, fish and deli products.  In Retail Confidential, I noted my thoughts and observations in a diary entry.  That was a couple of years ago and from recent shopping trips, I note that not much has changed in terms of bad hygiene habits.  This is an edited version of the section in the book.

"Before I got to the checkouts, I do what I always do when shopping in food stores. I spend a few minutes watching staff handling fresh food – meat, fish, delicatessen etc – to monitor hygiene.  I become like the obsessive-compulsive TV detective Monk when I witness the nose-wipers, hair-flickers, finger-lickers and face-scratchers continually failing to wash their hands.  It is the food buying turn-off and my horror applies not only to supermarkets and small specialist shops but also to catering establishments.  My ultimate nightmare is the exposed salad bar, having observed several times in supermarkets, people sticking their fingers into the cous-cous mixture or, in one spectacularly vomit-inducing incident, an old drunk man scooping up potato salad with his bare hands and stuffing it into his messy mouth.  Yuk.  Today, bad hygiene is always evident.  If I choose to buy pre-packed food, I realise that it is probably just as prone to packers with bad habits handling it but there is some small comfort in the fact that I don’t see the process.  

A newspaper not so long ago ran a feature on hand washing.  Apparently, the Scottish Executive has decided to spend £2.5 million on telling people how to wash their hands properly.  At a conference some time ago, I was told that we spend too little time giving our hands a cursory wash and that we should use the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song to ensure we do a thorough job.   It may result in you getting odd looks in the toilets, though.  I award full marks to the Scottish Executive and more power to them as they take unnecessary flak for supposedly wasting money.  

The newspaper featured drawings of hands in various poses with excellent instructions: wet hands with water; apply enough soap to cover all hand surfaces; rub hands palm to palm; right palm over back of other hand with interlaced fingers and vice versa; palm to palm with fingers interlaced; backs of fingers to opposing palms with fingers interlaced; rotational rubbing of left thumb clasped in right palm and vice versa; rotational rubbing, backwards and forwards with clasped fingers of right hand in left palm and vice versa; rinse hands with water; dry thoroughly with towel; duration of procedure at least 15 seconds.  That’s not a lot of time but no one can fault the need for more thoroughness.   

The next time I observe people in a fresh food environment washing their hands so methodically will be the first time.  Hygiene in food businesses is just as much of a factor in customer service experiences as anything else.  But, like the broad picture, inconsistencies dominate practices.  Again, let the customer beware.

Soap and water helps to build retail trust.  So, come on, fresh food people, wash hands, wash them often, make a big public deal of it and you'll get more customers coming back."

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