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February Cartoon: Food Safety and Jewelry

Food worker loses ring in food

Have you ever thought about how many pathogens and germs your jewelry might have? If you were to put your jewelry under a microscope, you’d probably be disgusted to see the number of bacteria and dead skin cells that jewelry can accumulate — especially rings and bracelets.

The fact is, everyone carries disease-causing microorganisms on and in their bodies — and jewelry can act as a reservoir for germs. That’s why if you’re a food worker, you should refrain from wearing from wearing anything fancier than a plain ring on your arms and hands when you work. Any other kind of jewelry carries too much risk that germs will be transmitted to the food and utensils you touch.

It’s important to learn the restrictions and dangers that jewelry presents in foodservice. Understanding this issue will help you make your workplace a safer place for both your customers and yourself.

The following are some answers to frequently asked questions related to food safety and jewelry.

What jewelry can food handlers wear while working?

According to the FDA, food workers can only wear a plain ring like a wedding band while they work. The ring should not have any grooves where pathogens can hide.

If you choose to wear a plain ring while working, you should be cautious to keep your ring from contaminating the food you prepare or serve. Wash your hands often and wear gloves.

No other items are allowed, including medical alert bracelets, rings with jagged edges (like diamond rings), bracelets, and watches.

Any jewelry that’s not worn on your hands or arms — such as earrings, necklaces, or facial jewelry — are technically allowed under the Food Code. You should check with your manager to see if your workplace has any additional guidelines about those types of jewelry.

If you are a manager, carefully consider what types of jewelry are most likely to contaminate food at your establishment and create a written policy for your employees to follow.

If one of your employees needs to wear jewelry with medical information, discuss some alternatives to wearing a medical bracelet. As stated in the Food Code:

If a food worker wears a medical alert or medical information bracelet, the conflict between this need and the Food Code’s requirements can be resolved through reasonable accommodation in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The person in charge should discuss the Food Code requirement with the employee and together they can work out an acceptable alternative to a bracelet. For example, the medical alert information could be worn in the form of a necklace or anklet to provide the necessary medical information without posing a risk to food. (Section 2-303.11)

If I wear gloves, can I still wear my bracelet, watches, and rings?

Aside from a plain wedding ring, no. Rings are more likely to perforate your gloves, causing them to be unsanitary — especially when you are in contact with food. As for bracelets and watches, they aren’t always secured under your gloves, and since they carry pathogens you shouldn’t wear them while you’re working with food.

Why can’t food workers wear jewelry?

There are several good reasons why the FDA recommends food handlers not wear jewelry.

Reason #1: It gets dirty. Just like phones, jewelry tends to collect bacteria and pathogens. When you wear jewelry you touch it constantly, whether you notice it or not. Maybe you’re tweaking it to make it look good, fidgeting around with it, or just touching it to put it on or take it off.

At the same time, your hands touch plenty of other things throughout the day — doorknobs, phones, keyboards, stair rails, car doors, toilets, etc. You can assume that if your hands touch something, your rings, bracelets or watches are most likely coming into contact with it as well.

Reason #2: It’s not sanitized often enough. Think about it: when was the last time you specifically cleaned and disinfected your jewelry? I don’t mean splashing your wedding ring with some soap and water the last time you washed your hands. I mean you took it off, submerged it in hot water with antibacterial soap for 30 minutes, scrubbed it with a brand-new toothbrush, rinsed it with warm water, and then submerged it in alcohol. It’s likely been a few months or more, right?

Reason #3: Germs can build up on it. Even when you’re vigilant about your handwashing, that doesn’t eliminate the germs and bacteria from jewelry properly — especially if your jewelry has complex nooks and crannies. In addition to not being properly cleaned when you wash your hands, it’s most likely getting dirty soap stuck in those nooks and crannies.

Reason #4: It can prevent you from cleaning your hands properly. Whether you keep your jewelry on or remove it when washing your hands, the jewelry makes it more difficult to get your hands fully clean. If you wash your hands with the jewelry on, you risk letting germs escape by hiding on the jewelry. If you take your jewelry off before washing your hands, you risk re-contaminating your hands as soon as you put it back on.

Reason #5: It can tear through gloves. When you wear jewelry with sharp edges, you’re more likely to tear holes in your gloves while you work. Since you have to stop and change your gloves every time they get damaged, this can seriously slow you down at work. Not to mention the risk of contaminating a customer’s food!

Reason #6: Jewelry can become physical hazards. In addition to the biological risks of wearing jewelry, jewelry can pose physical risks to your customers. Think about what could happen if your bracelet, watch, earring, or ring fell into food. Your customers could choke or break a tooth. Jewelry could even cause cuts or sores inside someone’s mouth or throat.

Jewelry can also put you in danger if it gets caught in the machinery or tools you use in your job.

What happens if I forget to take my jewelry off before preparing food?

If you realize that you forgot to take your jewelry off, stop what you are doing. If your jewelry came into contact with any food, throw it away. After you put your jewelry in a safe spot, clean and sanitize the station where you were working, wash your hands, and change your gloves.

How can I keep jewelry from contaminating food?

In summary, you can protect yourself and your customers by following these five guidelines:

  1. Leave your jewelry safely stored at home. 
  2. If you wear a medical alert bracelet, work with your manager to find a good alternative to the bracelet that will keep you and your customers safe.
  3. Wash your hands and change your gloves frequently.
  4. Remember, even if you wear gloves you shouldn’t wear jewelry.
  5. Follow your workplace’s guidelines for proper attire.

Need a food handlers card or just want to learn more about food safety? Take our online food handler training!

— Aileen Salazar

Download/print cartoon: Lost Ring

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