Inadequate Hand Washing is Related to Food-borne Illnesses

According to a an article titled A “SAFE HANDS” HAND WASH PROGRAM FOR RETAIL FOOD OPERATIONS by O. Peter Snyder, Ph.D., pathogens responsible for food-borne illnesses (vegetative bacteria, parasites and viruses) remain on the hands and fingertips after using the toilet, changing diapers, or cleaning up after pets at home. Contaminated raw products (raw meat, poulty, fish, unwashed fruits and vegetables), infected cuts, boils or an infected fingernail are sources for transient microorganisms to attach themselves. Most people fail to wash their hands after petting an animal, coughing or sneezing, or handling money.

Studies indicate that personnel in both health care and food service industries have incorrect hand washing habits. A high percentage of food service personnel in one study were reported not to wash their hands and they are one of the links in the multiphase process of contaminated food resulting in food-borne illnesses.

O. Peter Snyder, Ph.D. explains pathogenic contamination:

Toilet paper fails to reliably protect the fingertips from contamination of fecal material and pathogenic microorganisms. Touching other highly contaminated items, surfaces, or objects also contributes to the transfer of pathogens. The transfer of small populations of E. coli 0157:H7, and viruses by hands and food represent the greatest threat of causing food-borne illnesses.

Around and under the fingernails is an environment conducive to microbial growth and this area of the hand often harbors the highest microbial population. Salmonellas and E. coli can survive on the fingertips for a few hours. It is known that milk can greatly increase the survival time of bacteria.

Some nations of the world don’t use toilet paper because it’s too expensive. The people in these nations use one hand to wipe themselves after defecating and then wipe their hands on some leaves or rinse under some water from a pitcher. When they eat or cook, they use the other hand. When these people migrate to countries that use toilet paper, they must be taught the importance of using toilet paper and washing their hands with soap and water to prevent food borne illnesses.

The “SAFE HANDS” Hand Wash Program For Retail Food Operations Abstract explains prevention techniques for pathogenic microorganisms:

By an adequate hand wash program. When washing the hands, the use of a fingernail brush provides 350 times greater removal of transient microorganisms from fingertips. Frequent hand washing among food workers represents an important element of hygiene that may interrupt transmission of organisms contributing to food-borne illnesses.

Hand washing is critical in food service, food production, homes and day care operations.

There is a lower incidence of diarrhea in day care centers with a hand-washing program. The program must include washing with soap and water before handling food and after arriving at the day care center, helping a child use the toilet, or using the toilet themselves and drying hands with paper towels. Hand washing has a positive interrupting effect even in unsanitary environments.

The “SAFE HANDS” Abstract emphasizes the importance of personal hygiene:

Daily bathing, using deodorants, and keeping fingernails clean and clipped short will help prevent food borne illnesses. All washing agents are equally effective when followed by drying with a paper towel. Soap and water is adequate for general washing procedures.

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