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Food Safety Measures in Islamic Jurisprudence – Part 5

Jun 10, 2022

So today we look at other aspects which affect food safety.

Personal hygiene

There are various verses in the Holy Quran, for example:
لَّمَسْجِدٌ أُسِّسَ عَلَى ٱلتَّقْوَىٰ مِنْ أَوَّلِ يَوْمٍ أَحَقُّ أَن تَقُومَ فِيهِ ۚ فِيهِ رِجَالٌ يُحِبُّونَ أَن يَتَطَهَّرُوا۟ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُطَّهِّرِينَ
Certainly the Masjid founded on piety from the very first day is more deserving that you should stand to offer Salah in it; for in it there are men who love to be purified; and Allah loves those who purify themselves. [At Tauba 9: 108]

Noble verses like this emphasize that bodily cleanliness is a vital daily practice in Islam. These verses in addition to various Ahaadith, highlight bodily hygiene and the importance of using water when cleaning oneself and keeping clean after using the toilet. The Hadith additionally highlights personal grooming, especially taking care of any kind of hair on the body and nose and mouth hygiene. Siwak or tooth stick has a significant place in Islamic hygiene practices.

From fingernails to the gastrointestinal tract, people carry with them a reservoir of hundreds of different microorganisms with some being naturally present and others obtained through daily activities, with some of them being supportive to our bodily functions and others destructive. Concerning the outer surface of the body viz. the face, neck, hands and hair harbour a higher amount of microorganisms compared to other parts. Daily bathing of a food handler has been suggested as a measure to achieve a sufficient level of personal hygiene, since it directly influences the type and the amount of microflora on the skin. It is clear that personal hygiene concerns in the food industry are addressed by the Tayyib concept.

Hand hygiene and faecal contamination
It is important to know that the Tayyib concept zooms in on hand washing practices. Poor food handler hygiene, especially lacking hand washing is deemed one of the main causes of food borne disease. Just the concept of Wudhu provides the ideal amount of cleanliness for food handlers. Washing three times indicates a longer duration and rubbing of hands during washing and washing in between the fingers indicate sensitive regions of the hands that are easily contaminated, hence these must be cleaned. Washing hands before and after being in contact with food indicates proper timing of hand washing. These constitute valuable advice to achieve clean hands and avoid cross-contamination in a food handling setting.

Other cross-contamination issues
There are other cross-contamination issues relevant in the food safety context. Namely, the importance of proper work clothing, correct storage and packaging. Firstly, according to the verse in the Quran,

وَثِيَابَكَ فَطَهِّرْ
Purify your clothes, [Al Muddaththir 74: 4]

food handlers should wear suitable protective work clothing and be provided with adequate facilities to change in a clean manner without contamination. Wearing white clothes is also widely practiced in food establishments, mainly because it allows evaluating their cleanliness and deciding upon a time to change them. Regarding proper storage and packaging, contamination of food could also take place through touching or wiping the mouth or nose, coughing, sneezing or spitting.

During coughing and sneezing droplets from the mouth and nose could travel a significant distance and contaminate the surrounding workers, food and equipment. Therefore, if a food handler should take care not to breath, let alone sneeze or caught, into their own vessels, they should take extra care not to do that into other containers.

The Hadith also teaches us that food should be covered so as to protect it from insects and rodents etc.

Food is a blessing from Allah, enjoy it, but keep it clean!

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