Insanitary habits of food handlers and its health implications


Food handlers are trained or untrained personnel who handle food in one way or the other e.g. at home, industry, market etc. for the purpose of consumption (Martins, 2015). As urbanization increase worldwide, eating meals outside the home is becoming more frequent. Despite the growth of this sector, there is no effective education or training of food handlers or hygiene control of the food sold on the streets.

The contamination of food supply with pathogen and its persistence, growth multiplication and or toxin production has emerged as an important public health concern. Food borne illness is a major international problem and an important cause of the reducing economic growth. Over two hundred different diseases are known to be transmitted of food (Bryan, 1982).

Insanitary habit of food handler and its health implication to man can possibly be a source of the microbial contamination which could be as a result of:

  • Unhygienic handling
  • Raw material
  • Inadequate cleaning of the machines used to cut food, knives, contact surfaces, clothes and manipulation hand
  • Airborne contamination (Gilling, 2001).

Furthermore, the insanitary habits of food handlers include and are not limited to the following which are:

  • Lack of personal hygiene such as bathing, washing of hands with sufficient soap and water after visiting the restroom etc.
  • Lack of environmental sanitation

The implication or causes of these insanitary habits of food handlers includes the following:

  • Cholera
  • Typhoid fever etc.

Bad habit of food handlers

Bad habits of food handlers below are the outline of bad habit frequently exhibited by food handlers which are source of food contamination (Martins, 2015).

  1. Wearing of rings, wrist watches bangles and jewellery while handling food.
  2. Soiled or dirty hands caused by visiting the toilet or handling different food without washing the hands.
  3. Not taking bath regularly will cause contamination to food when handling it.
  4. Applying nail varnisher or wearing of long finger nails without the use of hand gloves.
  5. Touching, scratching and combing of hair or exposing of long hairs where food is handled.
  6. Coughing and sneezing over people equipment and working surface.
  7. Smoking, spitting and snuff taking.
  8. Licking of finger, blowing or poking of the nose during food preparation and services.
  9. Wearing of dirty, soiled or contaminated clothing.
  10. Permitting unhealthy people to handle food and drinks.
  11. No covering cuts, boils, sores, spot and septic lesions with appropriate or water proof of dressing.
  12. Using dirty or contaminated equipment to handle food and drinks.

Factors responsible for in-sanitary habit of handling of food

  1. Cross contamination: Cooked and uncooked foods are likely to be contaminated when stored or kept together.
  2. Lack of health education: Food handlers who do not have knowledge on food hygiene, contaminate food unknowingly to them.
  3. Improperly cooked food: Improper cooked food causes food born disease to human, food should be properly cooked before consumption.
  4. Infected Employee should not be allowed to handle food, if allowed the possibility of food contamination is assured.
  5. Poor personal hygiene facilitates food borne infection/disease.
  6. Food prepared a day or more before it is served without proper storage or adequate reheating may likely to harbour infective agent.
  7. Allowing pest such as rodent, flies, birds and pet (dogs, cat) etc. into food preparation and services apartment aids contamination of food.
  8. Absence of hand washing: Absence of hand washing after visiting toilet or other activities aid food contamination (Martins, 2015).

Effect of in-sanitary habits of food handler

Below are the effects of in-sanitary habit of food handlers;

  1. Food poisoning.
  2. Food borne disease.
  3. Food contamination.
  4. Food spoilage.
  5. Food shortage.

Food poisoning

Food poisoning is a genetic term used to signify illness acquired through the consumption of food poisonous food. The term cover intoxications, toxins and various organic substances naturally present in food.

Food poisoning is a notifiable disease under food and drug acts or regulations; food poison is the illness contracted following the consumption or ingestion of food which contains toxins produced by bacteria, poisonous plant, animal and inorganic chemicals. Food poison is characterized as sudden unsent of symptoms which strike within a short period of time among people who have eaten contaminated food.

Symptoms of food poisoning

  • Abdominal pains.
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Headache etc. (Menard & Dubrevil, 2002).

Food borne disease

This is also known as food borne illness which result from the consumption of contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, virus or parasites that contaminate food as well chemical or natural toxins such as poisonous mushrooms (Hart & Winstanley, 2001)

Food contamination

Food becomes contaminated through a verification of mechanisms. Some things that contribute to food borne illness are:

  1. Inadequate hand washing
  2. Cross-contamination
  3. Storage and cooling temperature
  4. Contamination of food by animals, insanitary disposal of waste (Van, Impe & Debevere, 2004).

Food spoilage

Food spoilage means the original nutritional value, texture, flavour of the food are damaged, the food becomes harmful to people and unsuitable to cat.


This is a condition that result from eating a food in which the nutrient is not enough or are too much such that the food causes health problem.

Food shortage

Food shortage occurs when food handler misuse or manage food by improper handling which will result to contamination.

 Disease that could emanate through the insanitary habit of food handlers

  1. Streptococcus faecalis
  2. Staphylococcus aurens
  3. Escherichia Coli
  4. Salmonella Species

Streptococcus faecalis

This is a commensal enterococcus which lives in the intestine of animals including man. The entrococcus is a gram-positive organism which forms chains of cells. It is neither a spore form nor a motile organism. It’s presence in water like Escherichia Coli which is an indication of faecal pollution. These diseases occur after the consumption of contaminated food.

Symptoms: 6 to 16 hours

Sources of organisms

Streptococcus faecalis lives in the intestine of man and animals. It is responsible for the contamination of water and food especially meat and dairy product e.g. milk and cheese (Allen, Edberg & Reasoner, 2004).

Staphylococcus aurens

This is a gram-positive proteolytic bacterium which grows under aerobic conditions. The organism in shape and is one of the entro-toxin staphylococci, which requires moisture and optimum temperature of toxins.

The strain of staphylococcus aurens which causes food poison produces toxins in any food in which it has opportunity to grow. It grows rapidly in cluster and if the food is subsequently consumed, the symptoms appear quite quickly.

Incubation period: the symptoms appears from 1-6 hours, usually 2 to 4 hours, sometimes it can appear within 30 minutes after eating the infected food.

Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramp, diarrheal etc. (Pereira, & Jett, 2004).

Escherichia coli

Escherichia Coli is a gram-negative non-spore forming organism which is mesophilic in temperature requirement. It is an entropathogenic bacterium which exists as a normal inhabitant of the intestinal flora of man and animals. It causes severe diarrhoea enteritis in children especially infants. Infant may get the infection in maternity wards by direct spread and also by contaminated foods. Escherichia Coli cause travellers’ diarrhoea in faeces. Hence they are plentiful in sewage and soil, its presence in water is an indication of the presence of other entero-pathogens.

Incubation period:  the onset of the illness is form 18-48 hours after eating infected food or drinking polluted water.

Symptoms: diarrheal, stomach pain, etc. (Nanta, 2002)


There are different types of salmonellae but not all are responsible for causing food poisoning, those that cause food poisoning are Salmonella Heidelberg, Salmonella Typhymurium and Salmonella Enteritidis. Food poisoning in large numbers before symptoms appear in healthy adults but the number needed to cause illness in infants, the sick and the elderly may be less.

Incubation period:  Symptoms is salmonella food poisoning appear within 12-72 hours but usually 24 hours after the ingestion of infected food.

Symptoms: are diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, nausea, headache, and abdominal pain (Lamps, 2007).

 Prevention and control

  1. Health education of food handlers to observe the scrupulous personal and kitchen hygiene.
  2. Proper meat and poultry inspection at abattoirs.
  3. Adequate refrigeration of foods.
  4. Consideration should be given to sizes or cuts of meat and other cooking time. Reheating should be rapidly and adequate.
  5. Raw food must be separate from cooked foods in order to prevent cross contamination.
  6. There should be adequate reheating of foods.

Remedies to in-sanitary habit of food handlers

  1. Preparing food in a safe manner.
  2. Cross contamination should be avoided.
  3. Do not clean your hands on your clothing as this can easily transfer bacteria.
  4. Serving food in a safe manner.
  5. Preventing food in a hygienic and appetising way.
  6. Use proper towels to clean up during food preparation and serving.
  7. Change gloves, utensils and dishes when changing functions. For instance use of one pair of glove for handling raw meat and another pair for handling fresh vegetables.
  8. Never run into food production or serving area.
  9. Prepare and cook only as much food as you intend to use.
  10. Wash and sanitized kitchen wares before using them.
  11. Do not taste foods with any utensil used either to mix or stir food?
  12. Be careful when lifting lids from hot food.
  13. Cooking should be done in a healthy environment    


In-sanitary habits of food handlers promote the distribution and the spread of food borne illness such as cholera, typhoid fever etc. and this could be rectified or control through the following;

  • Health education of food handlers
  • Regular examination of food handlers within the interval of 3 months
  • Provision of medical certificates of fitness from a government/public hospital. With this, insanitary habit of food handlers could be properly managed.


At this point, to avoid the implication of insanitary habit of food handlers, we strongly recommended that:

  • There should periodic monitoring of food handlers and food houses by environmental health officer to ascertain the hygiene standard of the eating houses and the food handlers.
  • All food handlers (with reference to commercial eating house) should be well health educated against the danger this insanitary habit to the public.
  • Food handlers are to go periodic medical check-up (medical certificate of fitness) with the intervals of every three (3) months.


Allen, M.J. Edberg, S.C. & Reasoner, D.J. (2004).Staphylococcus Faecalis.  Microbiological Studies, 22, 1111-1114.

Fuzihara, T.O., Fernandes, A.S. & Franco, B.D. (2000). Prevalence and Dissemination of Salmonella: Food Protec,. 63, 1749-1753

Gilling, S., Taylor, E.A. & Kane. K. (2001). Successful Hazard Control Point Implementation: Food Protect, 64, 710-715

Hart, C.A. & Winstanley, C. (2001). What makes a pathogen? Microbial, 28, 4-6

Lamps, C.W. (2007), Infective disorders of the gastro intestinal tract. Histopathology: 50, 55-63

Menard, L.P. & Dubreuil, J.D. (2002). Emteroaggregative Escherichia Coli; Heaf-stable Enterotoxin: 28, 43-60

Martins, H. (2015), Food Hygiene (Lecture Note). Ofuoma-Ughelli; Environmental Health Department, Delta State College of Health. (Unpublished).

Nanla, M.J. (2002). Modelling bacterial growth in quantitative microbiological risk assessment; Food Protect, 73, 297-304

Periera, R.K. & Jett, M. (2004), Food Hygiene, Microbiology: Food Science Book. Gaithersburg: Aspen Publisher.

World Health Organization (WHO)(2002). Definition of Health. Geneva: WHO.

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