Mike the Mad Biologist

WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS! The Restaurant Edition

I haven’t yelled at people to WASH THEIR DAMN HANDS!! to prevent the spread of disease. At the aptly named Barfblog, Ben Chapman describes an article that interviewed him-very meta, I know… (italics mine):

Restaurant inspections have definitely helped prevent outbreaks across the country, says food safety expert Margaret Binkley, an assistant professor in the department of consumer sciences at Ohio State University in Columbus. But the grades hanging in the window — or even a full report on public health websites — offer only a vague glimpse of the real risk of foodborne illness, Binkley says. “These places are often open 365 days a year, 12 hours a day,” she says. “A two-hour inspection is only going to be a very small snapshot.”

Out of necessity, inspectors tend to focus on things that can be easily checked, such as the temperature of a walk-in fridge, the cleanliness of the floors and countertops or whether cockroaches and mice have set up shop in the pantry. But these factors may not have much to do with actual diseases, says Benjamin Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “You can’t look at an inspection report and know how likely you are to get sick,” he says.

Chapman says he would want to know one thing about a restaurant — and it’s not the health score. “I want to know whether workers are washing their hands.”

He notes that noroviruses — a leading cause of foodborne illness — are spread primarily through contaminated hands. (These viruses, which have also made the rounds on cruise ships in recent years, can cause diarrhea, vomiting, muscle aches and a mild fever.) And, he adds, restaurants often get shut down for violations that are much less dangerous than unwashed hands. “A cockroach infestation is not going to increase the chances that you’re going to get sick.”

Seriously, WASH YOUR DAMN HANDS!

Thank you.

(and soap and water is fine. For fifteen seconds at least).

Comments

  1. #1 Art
    August 16, 2011

    I used to work at a restaurant and it was clear that hand washing was not a priority. Food out the window and money in the till was the priority. I know for a fact that hands went unwashed.

    I figured what was needed was a chemical treatment like the old ‘disclosing tablets’ the dentists used to use. You know the ones. Chew the red tablet and all the crud and film on your teeth absorbed the color and was made visible.

    Something that the inspector could have the workers dip their hands into and would show up all the crap on their hands. Something that would bind to, and change color in the presence of, the most common infectious agents.

    Figure it out and commercialize it and you make a fortune. Perfect it and you could have both a restaurant and a hospital version.

  2. #2 Russell
    August 16, 2011

    The solution for this is simple. 1) Put a hand-washing sink at each entrance to the kitchen. Not in a closet or restroom. On the wall. Visible to everyone about, workers, managers, owners, and maybe even the patrons. 2) No one enters the kitchen without using it.

  3. #3 Attorney At Large
    August 17, 2011

    Where the sink is visible and the employee hasn’t washed his hands after handling cash, I ask him to do it — but only where I can watch them making my food, mind you. Sometimes I’ll walk out.

    (Two very serious bouts with salmonella requiring hospitalization make one paranoid!)

  4. #4 Birger Johansson
    August 17, 2011

    Serendipity at work (proving that blue-sky, non-applied research really pays off!)

    “Microbiologist discovers new super-preservative” http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-08-microbiologist-super-preservative.html
    It does not work on vegetable matter (fruit, vegetables) since a different decay mechanism is involved, but it would save enormous amounts of food from being thrown away if it works as well as the study claims.

    Maybe this will add to the reduction of outbreaks, but I agree that basic hygiene is the first step!
    I also see a future for this in third world countries where food preservation is a big issue.

  5. #5 Calli Arcale
    August 17, 2011

    That description of norovirus makes it sound quite mild. And indeed, most infections can be merely suffered through at home without lasting ill effects. But it is a miserable few days going through the worst of it, and I would not wish it on anyone. So tired you can’t get up. Unsure of which end of your body to put over the toilet at any given moment. Seriously worried that if you sit more than ten yards from the bathroom you might not have the strength to get there when nature screams. (Because when you have this kind of diarrhea, nature doesn’t call. It screams. And if you don’t answer, it doesn’t wait for you to answer but barges right on in.) It is an interesting way of finding out how much mass is in your digestive tract, because your body doesn’t stop until every last bit is gone. And then it keeps going, because even your normal secretions (saliva, etc) offend it for a while, and you lose fluids too.

    Restaurant workers and people at home — wash your damn hands. Or at least wear gloves.

  6. #6 Jen
    August 23, 2011

    I feel that this isn’t really fair to restaurant workers, who probably would frequently wash their hands if that was a priority for their bosses. Those people who wear the same pair of plastic gloves for an hour to make your sandwich, use the cash register, take your money, and maybe touch your hand giving you the change and then make another person’s sandwich? They’ve got somebody who’s going to give them hel for “wasting” gloves or making people wait so they can wash their hands. I am a registered nurse and I’ve had nasty looks from my boss while washing my hands. (“Why not use the alcohol dispenser, it’s faster.”) Getting back to restaurants, the plastic or vinyl gloves drive me batty in the first place. There is nothing wrong with clean bare hands and everything wrong with contaminated gloves.

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