Upholding the highest standards of hygiene and cleanliness is a key concern for every catering business. The health and safety of customers and staff is paramount, and adverse incidents can also have a devastating impact on a business and its reputation.

Hand hygiene poses a particular challenge in the catering industry: some 80% of illnesses are transmitted by our hands and business owners need to set in place the very best systems and procedures in order to minimise the spread of bacteria and other disease-causing microbes (pathogens).

Effective hand washing and drying by all involved in food preparation and service are the first line of defence in minimising food-borne infections. The whole washing and drying process should take at least 20 seconds. The hygiene process must also be repeated on a regular basis, particularly after handling meats and different food types, and of course after a visit to the washroom.

Paper products have always offered important hygiene advantages in a food environment: in both kitchens and food preparation areas and in serving and eating areas. New research demonstrates that single use towels also offer the hygienic method of hand drying following hand washing in public washrooms in hospitals. They dry hands effectively and also spread fewer bacteria than any other hand drying option – and significantly fewer than jet air dryers. This will prove reassuring to customers too. People need to feel confident that they are being offered the most hygienic method of hand drying in washrooms – regardless of whether they are in a large modern restaurant or a small local café.

Single use towels are already recommended in hospital washrooms

In hospital washrooms – where upholding hygiene is paramount – experts are already advising the use of single use towels to optimise hygiene: German hospitals recommend single use towels be used for hand drying following hand washing in public washrooms due to their excellent hygiene properties; Meanwhile the French Society for Hospital Hygiene, SF2H, strongly discourages the use of electric hand dryers as the method of hand drying in hospital washrooms and recommends the use of single use towels as the effective way to dry hands and minimise the spread of infection following a visit to the washroom.

Laboratory and real-life studies demonstrate the superior hygiene properties of single use towels

Experts around Europe have explored the implications of hand drying in minimising the spread of infection. There is significant evidence from both laboratory and real-life studies to demonstrate that paper towels offer superior hygiene to jet air dryers.

Expert microbiologists have carried out studies to measure the impact of different hand drying methods, including paper towels, roller towels, warm air dryers and jet air dryers – on the spread of pathogens and overall washroom hygiene. They found that electric dryers contaminate both the air and surfaces with bacteria and viruses.

The latest research project, undertaken in hospitals in France, Italy and the UK, provides real-world evidence that washrooms using jet air dryers have significantly higher bacterial contamination than those equipped with single use towels for hand drying. Led by Professor Mark Wilcox of Leeds University and Leeds Hospital Authority, the study showed how antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including MRSA, enterobacteria and enterococci which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, are found more often and in greater numbers in washrooms using jet air dryers, both on the floors and on the machines, than in washrooms using single use towels. It concludes that single use towels offer the hygienic way to dry hands and minimise the spread of bacteria following a visit to the washroom.

Study findings have important implications for hygiene in the catering sector

Paper products are already widely used in the catering sector from kitchen roll and paper hand towels through to toilet tissue. Paper products are invaluable in kitchens and food preparation areas to wipe and dry hands and clean down surfaces; and they offer a convenient and sustainable solution for mopping up spills and cleaning tables in public areas.

The conclusions of this latest study demonstrate that paper products also have a role to play in promoting hygiene and minimising the risk of cross infection in washrooms, and this has important implications for their use in catering settings.

The findings also highlight the need for advice and guidance to be more readily available to managers and decision makers in the catering trade. Bodies such as the European Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation offer guidance on hand washing9,10. In the light of the latest study findings, health authorities and those responsible for public health and hygiene across Europe and beyond will now need to consider whether they should issue specific guidelines for the catering industry on optimal hand washing and drying in washrooms.

Managers and procurement staff cannot be expected to be up-to-speed on the latest science and advice. They would benefit from the support of experts when taking decisions on the type of hand drying method to provide in washroom facilities, and also in training their staff in the very latest hand hygiene techniques.

Paper has long been recognised as offering a sustainable solution in the catering sector. As a renewable raw material, made from trees, paper stores CO2 and so helps to mitigate global warming and contributes to the maintenance of forests. The latest science confirms that single use towels also present the most hygienic option for the catering sector and will minimise the spread of pathogens such as those that cause food poisoning.

For more information, europeantissue.com/you-cant-put-a-price-on-hygiene-in-the-horeca-trade/

References are available on request.