“Wash your hands before coming to the table!!”, I remember mother shouting from kitchen before our family dinner! Today, first out of educational reasons and then out of professional curiosity I have come to the point of realization that many adults (including these who work in the food sector) do not wash their hands. Back in 2002 I read the results of a survey from the American Society for Microbiology (dated 2000) where it was documented that 1 out of 3 adults did not wash their hands after leaving public restrooms. These results stroked me as thunder. Hand washing surveys in U.S. in 2010 (prepared for American Society for Microbiology & the American Cleaning Institute) show that the situation is more or less the same as in 2000.
Since our childhood we are “programmed” to wash our hands before eating food however this tendency is somewhat lost until adulthood. As a food safety auditor I saw many times adult food handlers in several occasions not washing their hands (even in cases they knew they should). I observed the same in restrooms (at least to those I had access as a man!). The question that arises is “why we forget to wash our hands?” or even better “why we don’t wash our hands?”.
Nowadays there are so many organizations, sites, initiatives, press releases concerning hand washing! If you take a minute, step back and think why so much time and money has been spent for something so logical, simple and easy process of our everyday life, you will start to question human behavior! Here are some really good links for example (too many to mention though, the choice was random):
- Australia: Hand Hygiene Australia (http://www.hha.org.au/)
- Canada: Hand Hygiene Challenge (http://www.handhygiene.ca/)
- New Zealand: Hand Hygiene New Zealand (http://www.handhygiene.org.nz/)
- U.S.: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings (http://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/)
- World Health Organization: Clean Care is Safer Care (http://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/en/)
- The global public-private partnership for hand washing (http://globalhandwashing.org/)
Let’s be rational. It’s not only the technique which has to be discussed in a food safety seminar when talking about hand washing. Here are some reasons to wash our hands and each one of them is a good chance for discussion:
- To be healthy. Logical. Hand washing has proved the best way to keep you healthy against flu, dirt, biological hazards etc.
- To handle foods safely. 1 out of 3 food poisonings worldwide is taking place because of dirty hands or incomplete hand washing!
- To avoid killing somebody! 3.000 souls in U.S. are lost because of food poisoning (Source: CDC)! 351.000 people are dying because of food poisoning globally (Source: WHO)!
- To avoid sending somebody to hospital. 128.000 persons are hospitalized every year in U.S. (Source: CDC) because of food poisoning, 5.946 in E.U. in 2013 (Source: EFSA)!
- To be the example! Scientific studies have shown that hand washing behavior of seniors plays a crucial influence on other staff (Pediatric critical care medicine Journal, 2009 May;10(3):360-3, Hand hygiene adherence is influenced by the behavior of role models). In other words seniors act as role models!
- To minimize the risk! Everybody says that! From Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/washing_hands.html) & UNICEF to The Thailand Centre for Evidence Based Nursing and Midwifery & European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Everybody!!!
- To honor the effort of your parents! It’s not a small thing! Just think about it! Assume a family with 1 kid. Assume the kid starts to wash hands at the age of two without any help. Assume that a parent advices the kid each day for lunch / dinner / supper until the age of 12. Do the math!!!
- To boost your organization’s reputation on hand washing! That counts double if you are working in the food sector! When customers actually see restaurant’s personnel washing their hands not only they feel more safe to consume the prepared food but also they spread the word to their friends (ok not as fast as a bad experience but they do it!)
- To reduce your company’s cost from possible food poisoning! In case a food company is responsible for food poisoning Insurance fees are elevated! According to The Huffington Post food poisonings costs roughly $70 billion dollars a year in the U.S. alone!
- To shine on! It’s like a smile. Clean hands give you the feeling of a morning shower! A clean slate when we wash our hands, we also wash our minds clean: “…the notion of washing away one’s sins, entailed in the moral-purity metaphor, seems to have generalized to a broader conceptualization of wiping the slate clean, allowing people to metaphorically remove a potentially broad range of psychological residues.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)
And please believe me there are many more reasons why we should wash our hands. We the lucky ones who have fresh clean water and soap (not to mention antibacterial soap) we should set the example and try to help those who are not so lucky and face the consequences of not having the above …gifts. Really did you know that each year diarrhea kills around 760.000 children under five (Source: World Health Organization)? Poor personal hygiene (incomplete hand washing or absence of hand washing) aggregates diarrhea. Can we live with that pretending we are safe and continue our lives without caring about hand washing? Can we close our eyes to a food handler who sneezed and didn’t wash his/her hands and continues to prepare our meal?
For a downloable pdf presentation for educational purposes click 10 good reasons to wash your hands!!!