Most of the food borne illness pathogens associated with fresh produce can be spread through the faecal-oral route. Faeces carrying the pathogen must either directly contaminate the produce or contaminate soil, water, equipment or hands that then comes into contact with the produce. It may not possible for a business to know if a worker is ill with a gut pathogen. The worker may choose to hide the fact they are ill, only have mild symptoms or even display no symptoms at all (i.e. asymptomatic infection). The worker poses a real risk to a customer if they inadvertently contaminate equipment or product with faeces. The pathogen may be present at high levels in the faeces of an infected worker meaning that even small amounts of contamination could transmit illness to a consumer. The greatest risk of faecal contamination is from the hands of a worker shortly after they have defecated and wiped themselves clean. For example, hands that are contaminated with faeces containing Hepatitis A have been shown to be able to pass on the virus for at least four hours. If clean toilet facilities are not available within easy access, what will a worker do? We know from experience that they will take advantage of some cover, such as a ditch or tall crop nearby. In this scenario, if they cannot remove faecal contamination from their hands before handling crops and equipment they may contaminate whatever they touch. It is therefore important to make available:
Toilets that are acceptably clean i.e. don’t contaminate the user!
Toilets that are near enough to the workers for easy access.
Adequate toilets for the number of workers.
Facilities for cleaning hands after using the toilet.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission only requires that, as far as possible, such facilities should be located in close proximity to the fields and indoor premises. The accepted maximum distance for locating toilet facilities from workers is 500m in GLOBALG.A.P. and Red Tractor fresh produce scheme (previously known as the Assured Produce Scheme) and ¼ mile in US G.A.P. standards. In some cases, for example where one person is working independently, toilets may be further away than 500m, providing there is reasonable and adequate transport to the toilet available to the worker. The number of toilets that are sufficient is not stated in most QA schemes but guidance on the number of toilets and hand basins needed for workers can be taken from the HSE publication ‘Welfare at work’ (HSE, 2007). It should be noted that the HSE source refers to permanent structures.
Table 1: HSE recommendations for the number of toilets and washbasins per staff numbers. Figures are for a mixed gender workforce (or for women only)
|Number of workers||Number of toilets||Number of hand basins|