Exclusion of food handlers

Exclusion of food handlers

Supervisors must be aware that apparently healthy, symptom-free employees may be carriers of, and excrete, pathogenic bacteria. Although healthy carriers are unlikely to cause illness, they may contaminate food with, for example, salmonellae or shigellae. Organisms ma be excreted intermittently. Healthy carriers may have become infected with pathogenic bacteria from contact with raw food with which they work, particularly poultry or meat. 

 Convalescent carriers are people who have recovered from an illness but still harbour the organisms. The convalescent state may be quite prolonged and salmonellae are sometimes excreted for several months.

Laboratory testing cannot be relied on to detect small numbers of intermittently excreted pathogens. High standards of hygiene, and strict adherence to reporting procedures, are the only way to prevent the contamination of food by an infected food handler.

It is legal requirement for food handlers to advise their supervisor if they are suffering from diarrhoea or vomiting and/or suspect they may be carrying a food poisoning organism.


Food handlers with food poisoning symptoms, such as diarrhoea or vomiting, or suspected of carrying food borne organisms, e.g. because of close contact with a confirmed case of typhoid or consuming a meal known to have caused illness, must be excluded from any job which would expose food to risk of contamination. Where appropriate, the environmental health department should be informed immediately so that an environmental health practitioner/officer can carry out urgent investigations. The guidance from the department of health, ‘food handlers: fitness to work’ states that any person who is excreting food poisoning organisms must not be allowed to engage in food handling until they have been free of symptoms for 48 hours, once any treatment has ceased, and have received medical clearance. However, it is critical that good hygiene, particularly hand washing, is observed. Food handlers suffering from typhoid or paratyphoid must provide six consecutive negative faecal specimens, each obtained one week apart – commencing three weeks after completion of treatment, before they can resume food handling duties.

If the supervisor has no confidence in the hygiene standards of a food handler who is a carrier of a food poisoning organisms, even when symptoms-free for 48 hours, they should not be allowed to handle high-risk food.

Food handlers returning from holidays aboard, particularly from countries with warm climates and suspect sanitation, should complete a short medical questionnaire. Even if they have fully recovered from symptoms of diarrhoea or vomiting experienced on holiday, they should be excluded from food handling until they have provided at least one negative specimen. Food handlers with out symptoms of food poisoning could be allowed to under-take non-food handling jobs until clearance is received. They should be closely supervised and observe the highest standards of hand washing.


Food handlers with skin infection such as psoriasis, boils or septic cuts, respiratory tract infections, infection of the eyes or ears, dental sepsis or purulent gingivitis may also be excluded until medical clearance has been obtained.