The general public simply isn’t doing a very good job of washing their hands.
A Michigan State University article, “Hand Washing Practices in a College Town Environment,” was published in the April 2013 Journal of Environmental Health and the results were widely splashed around the popular media this past week. The study found only 5 percent of people are doing what I like to call a “Food Code” wash, which includes using soap, scrubbing for 10 to 15 seconds and drying hands.
I found it interesting that the study found it did help to have a handwashing sign in a restroom. Also, women are still better than men at washing their hands properly or at all. And the cleanliness of the sink is a significant factor in handwashing behavior.
So the public still needs to be educated and have a greater awareness about proper handwashing. I would say that also goes for foodservice employees, based on what I’ve seen while conducting observational studies. Beyond education, we all need to establish good handwashing habits. I’m not sure how the “cough in your sleeve” habit became so widely accepted in a relatively short period of time, but we need that kind of adoption of proper handwashing for better health for all.
Submitted by Janell Meyer
We’ve all heard the saying “It takes a village” used when solutions to social problems are discussed. I would argue that more importantly, it takes a family. Families are where social norms are learned. Responsible adult parents teach children about handwashing and personal hygiene. Parents (ideally, or other custodial caretakers if circumstances prevent parental involvement) teach kids what foods are healthy to eat and how to prepare and taste them. A village (community) assists in shaping and providing oversight but the fundamentals begin in the home. The scientific community (experts in respective fields) provides guidance as to what is good personal hygiene and what are healthy foods. Government provides some support but the actual application begins with family. As a family member (you came from somewhere!) – do your part!
With attention to H1N1 prevention, handwashing has been in the news. Finally, it is being portrayed as the right thing, even the cool thing to do – not something fussy germ-o-phobes insist on. The evidence is soooo clear that proper handwashing – addressing when and how – can keep people healthy.
Health tip 1: wash your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, coughing or sneezing, and other times your hands get yucked up.
Health tip 2: wash your hands properly – follow the recipe of soap and warm water, lather at least 10 seconds, rinse (make the germs go down the drain), and dry with hot air or disposable towel. Don’t let your clean hands get re-contaminated from the faucets! Get creative – use a paper towel or elbow to turn off water, the towel dispenser and/or door handle (your sleeve will work also). Newer facilities are paying attention to bathroom design – automatic faucets and touch dryers and circular open entries are becoming common. I like it!
Is it true – can a person get sick from taking a dip at the community swimming pool? Well – yeah. People have gotten sick after swimming because other swimmers have urinated or defecated in the pool (scarily, a recent survey cited in a Parade magazine article reported one in five people admitted to sometimes doing so! Granted, this is not scientific but it is still an eye opener).
Sure, no one intentionally drinks pool water. But, it does happen – and when it does, contaminated water has entered a person’s system. Chlorine can only do so much. Hopefully your pool has a policy about swim diapers. I bet if a Certified Pool Operator (CPO) is in charge that it does. The CPO® is to pools what ServSafe® or CP-FS is to retail foodservices – an assurance that the person in charge knows the right way to maintain operations. In one study we did among Iowa pool operators, we found CPO®- run pools had more structure.
These rules extend to the locker rooms also. Restrooms should be stocked with the necessaries – e.g. toilet paper, running water and soap to wash hands– and should be kept clean. As a former lifeguard, I used to grumble about having “skilled labor” (that would be me) clean the locker rooms. And, as you might suspect, I didn’t give this task the attention it deserved.
Fast-forward 30 years (literally, time has gone quickly) and here I am the one complaining to guards that there is no soap in the locker room. Am I being too fussy? I don’t think so. The pool is busily selling food items at the concession stand (the healthiness of snacks deserves its own posting – stay tuned).
Bottom line: Where there is food, there must be soap and water for handwashing.
I tell myself to “let it go”, to relax and not worry about food borne illness while on vacation. Easier said than done – I guess this is an occupational hazard.
We recently spent a few days in Estes Park, Colorado, which is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was beautiful weather and the Aspens were a blazing gold color. We took a few hikes and I did see the scenery. But I also wondered why only hand sanitizers were available in the restroom facilities located at higher elevations. How can concessions be offered without proper hand washing facilities? I understand water sourcing can be an issue, but it sure made me nervous all these people using the restroom and not having an opportunity to properly wash. Yes, the hand sanitizers will remove most pathogens but not the Norovirus, which is leading cause of food borne illness.
There was some improvement at lower elevations (we had running water, yea!), but I didn’t see huge increases in people washing their hands the right way – more splashing and dashing than singing happy birthday.
Combine these hand washing observations (or lack of observations) with other things I saw in dining situations (use of same cloth to wipe chairs, tables and silver, for instance) and its enough to make me not want to eat food away from home ever again. I am convinced food safety does sell – the challenge is to convince operations that this is a good investment and there will be return on the money spent to properly train staff. So, “Shout Out” when you see those working in dining situations making bad moves. Nicely ask them to use tongs to put bread in the basket, and I am betting workers will listen. Don’t just never return to the restaurant, give it the old college try and at least attempt to communicate what bothers you. Customers do Rule. Make your voice heard, and you can have the last word!