Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Food handlers have specific legal responsibilities and requirements related to their health and hygiene to ensure food safety. These requirements are crucial in preventing food contamination and protecting public health. A food handler is anyone who handles food or items that may come into contact with food, such as eating and drinking utensils.

Legal Obligations

All food handlers are legally obliged to comply with the health and hygiene requirements set out in the Food Safety Standards. Food businesses must inform all food handlers of their health and hygiene obligations under these standards. To facilitate compliance, businesses should provide food handlers with a copy of the health and hygiene requirements. Asking food handlers to sign a form acknowledging receipt of this information is a good practice. This approach ensures that everyone is informed and provides evidence of compliance. It may be beneficial to delegate this responsibility to one person in the organization to maintain consistency.

Health Requirements

If you are ill or have an infection, you can easily transfer harmful bacteria or viruses to food. Do not handle food if:

  • You are ill with vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, or a sore throat with fever.
  • Your doctor has diagnosed you with a foodborne illness.

If you volunteer for an event and become ill with any of the above symptoms, inform the event organizer immediately. It's crucial to stop handling food and notify the event organizer if you feel unwell during the event.

Food handlers who are ill can make food unsafe. Handling food while ill is against the law and poses significant health risks. If you have:

  • Infected sores on your hands, arms, or face.
  • Discharges from your ear, nose, or eyes (such as a cold).

You can continue handling food only if you take extra precautions to prevent contamination, such as covering sores or taking medication to dry up discharges.

Hygiene Requirements

Food handlers must take all precautions to ensure food or surfaces that come into contact with food are not contaminated by their body or anything they are wearing. This includes hair, saliva, mucus, sweat, blood, fingernails, clothes, jewelry, or bandages. You are required to:

  • Avoid handling ready-to-eat food like salads and cooked food—use tongs or other implements instead.
  • Wear clean outer clothing.
  • Cover bandages and dressings on exposed parts of your body with waterproof coverings.
  • Avoid eating over uncovered food or equipment and utensils.
  • Not sneeze, blow, or cough over uncovered food or equipment and utensils.
  • Not spit, smoke, or chew tobacco where food is handled.

Hand Washing

Proper hand washing is the most important measure to protect food from contamination. Clean and dry hands limit the transfer of harmful organisms to food. The Food Safety Standards require food handlers to wash their hands whenever they are likely to be a source of contamination, including:

  • Before handling food.
  • Between handling raw food and food that is ready to eat.
  • After using the toilet.
  • After smoking, coughing, sneezing, blowing the nose, eating, or drinking.
  • After touching hair, scalp, mouth, nose, or ear canal.
  • After handling rubbish and other waste.

Follow these five steps when washing hands:

  1. Wet hands under warm running water.
  2. Soap hands, lathering well.
  3. Rub thoroughly, including the wrists and between the fingers.
  4. Rinse in clean water.
  5. Dry thoroughly on paper towel, leaving no moisture on the hands.


Ensuring the health and hygiene of food handlers is a critical component of food safety. The guidelines provided by the Food Safety Standards are essential for preventing foodborne illnesses and maintaining public health. While there are many international standards for food handler medicals, the document "Food Handlers: Fitness to Work" by the UK Food Standards Agency is one of the most commonly used standards worldwide.

For more information on the standards, visit Food Handlers: Fitness to Work.