MUSCAT: A study conducted by the Food Science and Nutrition Department of Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) threw light on hygiene training for food handlers in restaurants.
A team of researchers comprising Maryam al Ghazali, MSc student; Prof Mohammad Shafiur Rahman, Dr Ismail al Bulushi and Dr Lyutha al Subhi, conducted a research project entitled ‘Food hygiene knowledge and practices among food handlers at selected restaurants in Muscat Governorate’.
The study evaluated the food safety and hygiene knowledge of the food handlers and their hygiene practices at selected restaurants. A total of 18 restaurants were selected from three wilayats, 6 from each wilayat, with a total of 18 food handlers per wilayat. A questionnaire was designed to assess the food safety, hygiene knowledge and practices of the food handlers; it included question on six main criteria: hygiene, food poisoning, food handling, cooking, knowledge of the municipality rules and food handlers’ training. The original questionnaire in English was translated into Arabic, Urdu and Hindi and was divided into knowledge and practices. The questions were prepared based on the pilot test, suggestions from experts working in the food hygiene and the literature reviews of previous studies.
The food handlers were given 20-30 minutes to respond independently to answer the questions. Two restaurants were visited per week, from each restaurant and three food handlers were selected. In addition, swab samples were collected from hands, chopping boards and knives to assess the hygiene practices microbiologically. The microbial tests were conducted for Total Aerobic Bacterial Count (TABC) and Enterobacteriaceae (ENT), which are commonly used to assess hygienic status.
This study found that the knowledge and hygiene practices of food handlers were inversely and significantly correlated. The inverse correlation indicated that decreasing knowledge caused high microbial contaminations. This indicated that increased food knowledge improved the hygiene practice (ie decreased the microbial contamination). Therefore, continuing education and updating knowledge could be achieved by attending training courses by the food handlers to enhance knowledge and practices of the food handlers. The study concluded that in order to provide a safe food in the community, food handlers’ knowledge should be enhanced through continuous training in food hygiene and safety.
Food safety rules, ie risk based food safety and educational programmes should be available to all workers at the restaurants.