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Footwear for food preparation personnel

Examining the requirements for protective footwear used in food preparation areas.

by Darren Roberts

Image © iStockphoto.com | andresr

Busy kitchens and factories in which food is processed pose considerable hazards to the chefs, cooks, kitchen porters, production line operatives and the many other workers found in these locations. Following a risk assessment, employers may provide such members of staff with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) – including protective footwear.

Commercial food preparation areas include a wide range of premises, from small-scale kitchens which cater for a few diners at a time, through to factories processing food on an industrial scale. As these working environments differ – in scale, processes and working practices – so the risks posed to workers differ. No single individual footwear design would be suitable for all these different environments and be able to provide the necessary protection against every hazard faced. Footwear for the food preparation and catering industries include a range of styles, which commonly include clog-style mules, trainer (sneaker)-style shoes, all-rubber wellington boots, boot covers and overshoes.

Footwear for the food industry should be comfortable, as workers are often on their feet for long periods of the day. The comfort would be improved by the footwear being as flat as possible, and comprising a sole with good cushioning properties. The sole should have a good degree of slip resistance if the employee is in potential messy or wet environments, in which case the footwear should also be waterproof. Uppers should be resistant to staining from foodstuffs and cleaning materials. The footwear may also possess protective properties provided by the incorporation of a toecap to offer impact and compression resistance. Laboratory testing can be used to examine these properties.

International standards

There are three major series of international standards that are used to demonstrate suitability of safety, protective and occupational footwear, although they do not specifically cover footwear to be used in food industries. Other standards do exist, although they are based on the series included in table 1.

Table 1: Commonly-used footwear standards

  • EN ISO 20344:2011 – ‘Personal protective equipment – Test methods for footwear’
  • EN ISO 20345:2011 – ‘Personal protective equipment – Safety footwear’
  • EN ISO 20346:2014 – ‘Personal protective equipment – Protective footwear’
  • EN ISO 20347:2012 – ‘Personal protective equipment – Occupational footwear’
  • CSA (Canadian Standards Association) Z195:14 (R2019) – ‘Protective footwear’
  • ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) F2412-18a – ‘Standard test methods for footwear protection’
  • ASTM F2413-18 – ‘Standard specification for performance for protective (Safety) Toe cap footwear’.

SATRA recommends that footwear used in the food industry should meet the requirements of these international standards as a bare minimum. Further considerations also need to be made due to the actual environments the footwear is to be used in. While these standards contain test methods and requirements for slip resistance and the degree of toe protection by inclusion of a steel or composite toe cap, other properties may not be addressed. For cold storage applications, the footwear would also need to provide adequate protection against low temperatures, which regular footwear would not offer. In the interest of hygiene, footwear may also need to offer a degree of cleanability and resistance to the materials used to clean work areas – particularly floors.

Footwear used in food preparation areas is likely to encounter a range of foodstuffs, including fats and oils, weak acids and alcohols. Some soling materials have better resistance to different contaminants than others. For example, fats may extract the plasticiser from PVC sole units, leaving them hard or brittle. In addition, some types of rubber may swell leaving them softer and less resistant to abrasion. Other materials, such as nitrile rubber or polyurethane (PU), are oil-resistant, and will perform better in these environments. To reduce the contact time with any foodstuff picked up in the tread of the sole, self-cleaning sole patterns may also be incorporated into the footwear (figure 1). The soles are usually made from flexible materials and incorporate shallow channels or tread patterns with tapered sides, which discourage picked up material from remaining in the sole for prolonged periods of time. Therefore, a careful choice of soling material will improve the safety and prolong the life of the footwear on which it is attached.

 

Figure 1: Self-cleaning sole patterns can reduce the risk of foodstuff being picked up in the tread

Slip resistance

One of the most important properties of any footwear is its resistance to slipping. Workers may be at risk of slipping on both clean and dirty floors, and at further risk of injury from what they come into contact with as they fall. There are recorded cases where kitchen workers either plunged their hands into boiling oil or pulled deep fat fryers onto themselves as they reached out to save themselves as they fell. The condition and cleanliness of any surface will greatly affect the worker’s risk of slipping. Spilt foodstuffs or liquids increase the risk of slipping, but so do freshly cleaned floors – if the floor is still wet or where ineffective rinsing may leave a slippery residue of soap solution behind.

Good quality protective footwear with a well-designed tread pattern will increase slip resistance by maximising the contact with the floor. This is complemented by the use of smooth, flat wearing surfaces, well punctuated by channels with good edges. In wet conditions, an effective tread pattern with well-defined lateral channels will help to sweep aside any liquid or foodstuff contaminant, in a similar way to how a tyre tread pattern acts when on a wet road.

 

Figure 2: The SATRA TM144 slip resistance test

Laboratory testing can be used to examine the slip resistance of whole footwear and sole units. The European EN ISO and Canadian CSA standards contain test methods covering these assessments. SATRA can both conduct the tests and supply the test equipment for members to carry out assessments (such as SATRA STM 603) for themselves. The EN test defines slip resistance condition ‘SRA’, which requires footwear to be tested against a ceramic test surface with a dilute soap solution (sodium lauryl sulphate) to simulate a newly cleaned floor. The EN ‘SRB’ test allows the footwear to be assessed against a polished steel surface with a glycerine solution to simulate an oily contaminant. There is also a third designation (‘SRC’), which represents both SRA and SRB having been conducted on an item of footwear. SATRA recommends that footwear intended for use in food preparation areas is tested to SRC conditions, as both the conditions described above are likely occurrences in commercial food preparation environments.

In the CSA standard, footwear is assessed against clay quarry tiles and a stainless steel surface wetted with water, but also allows the provision to choose other combinations of test surfaces and lubricants. The American ASTM standards do not contain a slip resistance test. However, ASTM F2913-19 – ‘Test method for measuring the coefficient of friction for evaluation of slip performance of footwear and test surfaces/flooring using a whole shoe tester’, has recently been published. If no relevant footwear standards exist, SATRA recommends the use of SATRA TM144 slip resistance tests (figure 2). This test method allows a choice of test surface and lubricants to represent the environment in which the footwear is to be used.

Toe protection

Toe protection is provided by the inclusion of metallic or composite toe caps in the footwear. Not all footwear aimed at the food industry may require integral toe protection, although workers in warehousing, production line and cold storage may be at risk of injury without adequate protection. Toe caps offer a degree of protection from accidental impacts or crushes. All three of the commonly used international standards, referred to above, include requirements for impact resistance of footwear which incorporate toe protection. In addition, the ASTM and the EN ISO standard also contain testing requirements for compression resistance. The test methods differ very slightly in their requirements, although the assessments are very similar in approach.

Cold store footwear

It is common for food to be stored or prepared at low temperatures to prolong the life of the products produced. Warehouse-sized refrigerators and freezers are employed to ensure that supermarket freezers remain fully stocked. Regular industrial footwear provides little protection from the cold, which may be as low as 2-3°C for chilled cabinets, down to -25°C for cold storage and as low as -40°C for deep freeze units. In these hostile environments, specially designed footwear is required to protect workers.

The European safety standards contain the option for manufacturers to code mark products to demonstrate to buyers that the footwear’s sole possesses insulating properties against cold. In the cold insulation test, whole footwear is placed into a freezer unit and the heat loss through the sole is measured. The footwear is required to exhibit a maximum 10°C heat loss through the sole complex over a period of 30 minutes when tested at a temperature of -17°C. Products which meet this requirement can be marked with the CI (cold insulation) code.

To protect workers in these environments, specially designed footwear will need effective insulation properties, which may include thermal linings built into the boot or even attached as a separate bootie system. To fully investigate the whole footwear, more sophisticated tests must be employed. The SATRA TM436 cold rating test method can be used to determine footwear’s cold rating. This is expressed as ‘the temperature at which the footwear should be comfortable for the wearer – neither too hot nor too cold’. The test takes into consideration that the wearers may be active, rather than standing still, so generating energy as they carry out their roles.

Cleanability

Maurizio Milanesio

In the interests of cleanliness and hygiene, all footwear for food preparation areas must be capable of being wiped clean or washed

As kitchens and food manufacturing factories are potentially messy environments, all footwear used must be capable of being wiped clean or washed. Moulded footwear, such as wellington boots, is easily cleanable. Their uppers have no seams and, therefore, no areas where foodstuffs (and microorganisms) may collect. Other footwear with simple upper designs – such as the occupational clog – is also easily cleaned, as its vamp is created from a single vamp pattern. For more complicated patterned footwear (including all lace-up footwear), there are areas where food can collect, such as where the sections of upper material are sewn together at the seams, or between the laces. By using the right designs and manufacturing techniques, it is possible to produce machine-washable footwear that is easily cleaned – even in a domestic washing machine. The footwear’s ability to withstand repeated washing may be assessed through laboratory testing, which examines the degree to which washed footwear retains its original size and shape, and assesses any detrimental effect over the washing cycles.

Footwear for the food industry often has white uppers, which may be more easily stained. These upper materials are generally heavily coated, and their resistance to staining and their cleanability may be assessed through simple laboratory testing, where samples of staining solutions are placed onto the upper leather or fabric and allowed to stand or dry. This test can be used to assess the ease at which the stains are removed and the degree of permanent discolouration of the material. Outer materials may be treated with anti-bacterial treatments, which may be added at the tanning stage for leather or during the dying process for textiles. These treatments are designed to withstand cleaning and washing procedures, and their effectiveness and resistance to washing and cleaning may be assessed through laboratory assessments.

In conclusion

Good health and safety practices are the only way to ensure that kitchens and food manufacturing factories are as safe as possible. However, the use of good quality and appropriately chosen PPE will support all the safety measures that employers put into place.

How can we help?

Please email SATRA’s footwear testing team (footwear@satra.com) for assistance with the design and testing of shoes and boots intended for wear in food preparation areas.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 12 of the February 2020 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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