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Video details common risky food-safety behavior

Busy places sometimes reveal check-out employees, grocery baggers, and other food handlers practicing risky food safety behavior such as wetting fingers with tongue before bagging groceries and fresh produce not sealed in bags. "Aren't you using the little finger wetter on the counter?" The supermarket customer timidly asked the check-out person that curious question when it came to handling fresh produce not sealed in a bag.

Video details common risky food-safety behavior.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

"It's there but I don't use it," the employee replied with disdain, grimacing into a smirk as he wiped his finger across his tongue to wet it in order to separate the paper bags. He wiped his index finger and thumb across his tongue once more as he gave change, handled the shopping bag, and proceeded to sneeze and cough into his hands (not into the bend in his inner elbow) once more.

As a rising number of supermarket check out clerks wipe their fingers across their tongue before giving change, opening bags, packing food in bags, looking at bar codes on raw produce, or handing objects to customers. And more restaurant food servers put plastic gloves between their teeth to separate them, customers are wondering why they don't make sure there's a wet sponge and perhaps a bottle of water to keep it moist next to their fingers before they habitually wet fingers with tongue when dealing with customers.

Video study finds risky food-safety behavior more common than thought

How safe is the food we get from restaurants, cafeterias and other food-service providers? A new study from North Carolina State University -- the first study to place video cameras in commercial kitchens to see how precisely food handlers followed food-safety guidelines -- discovered that risky practices happen more often than previously thought. You may wish to check out the news release, "Video study finds risky food-safety behavior more common than thought."

"Meals prepared outside the home have been implicated in up to 70 percent of food poisoning outbreaks, making them a vital focus area for food safety professionals," says Dr. Ben Chapman, according to that June 8, 2010 news release, Video study finds risky food-safety behavior more common than thought. "We set out to see how closely food handlers were complying with food safety guidance, so that we can determine how effective training efforts are."

Chapman is an assistant professor and food safety specialist in the department of family and consumer sciences at North Carolina State University (NC State) and lead author of the paper and study, "Assessment of Food Safety Practices of Food Service Food Handlers: Testing a Communication Intervention." Co-authors of the study are Dr. Douglas Powell and Katie Filion of Kansas State University, as well as Tiffany Eversley and Tanya MacLaurin of the University of Guelph in Canada. The study is published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of food protection.

In order to get firsthand data on these food-safety practices, researchers placed small video cameras in unobtrusive spots around eight food-service kitchens that volunteered to participate in the study

There were as many as eight cameras in each kitchen, which recorded directly to computer files and were later reviewed by Chapman and others. What they found demonstrates the need for new food safety-focused messages and methods targeting food handlers.

"We found a lot more risky practices in some areas than we expected," Chapman says, according to the news release. For example, most previous studies relied on inspection results and self-reporting by food handlers to estimate instances of "cross-contamination" and found that cross-contamination was relatively infrequent. But Chapman's study found approximately one cross-contamination event per food handler per hour. In other words, the average kitchen worker committed eight cross-contamination errors, which have the potential to lead to illnesses, in the course of the typical eight-hour shift.

Cross-contamination occurs when pathogens, such as Salmonella, are transferred from a raw or contaminated source to food that is ready to eat. For example, using a knife to cut raw chicken and then using the same knife to slice a sandwich in half. Cross-contamination can also result from direct contact, such as raw meat dripping onto vegetables that are to be used in a salad.

"Each of these errors would have been deemed a violation under U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code inspection guidelines. But more importantly, cross-contamination has the potential to lead to foodborne illnesses and has in recent outbreaks" Chapman says in the news release. "And it's important to note that the food-service providers we surveyed in this study reflected the best practices in the industry for training their staff."

The study also confirmed the long-held supposition that more food-safety mistakes are made when things are busier in the kitche

"During peak hours, we found increases in cross-contamination and decreases in workers complying with hand-washing guidelines," Chapman says in the news release. But the researchers do more than identify problems in the new paper; they outline solutions that can be applied to the food service industry. One suggestion is that food-safety training for kitchen staff needs to address the "team-like" nature of a commercial kitchen, rather than focusing on food handlers as individuals.

"This study shows us that each food handler is operating as part of a system," Chapman says in the news release. "And the food-safety culture of the overall organization – the kitchen and the management – needs to be addressed in order to effect change. For example, the general manager of a restaurant could take steps to highlight the value his or her business places on food safety."

Other steps that can be taken to address food-safety concerns include the introduction of new tools and procedures designed to minimize the risk of foodborne illness. New tools could be as simple as installing hand sanitizer units in accessible areas of the kitchen, which may be effective for reducing the likelihood of transfer of some pathogens. New procedures may include overhauling existing food-preparation schedules so that cooks face less time pressure during peak hours – and are therefore less likely to make food-safety mistakes.

More men don't wash their hands using soap

In many instances, they'll run it under the old water for a second or two. More women use soap. And some even wash their hands long enough to get rid of the bacteria, which requires up to 20 seconds of rubbing the soap on the hands under warm water. One way to wash hands with soap is to rub vigorously while you sing the song "Happy Birthday" twice.

A new study by Michigan State University researchers found that only 5 percent of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections. What’s more, 33 percent didn’t use soap and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all. Men were particularly bad at washing their hands correctly. The study, based on observations of 3,749 people in public restrooms, appears in the Journal of Environmental Health.

“These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate,” explains Carl Borchgrevink, associate professor of hospitality business and lead investigator on the study, in the June 10, 2013 news release "Eww! Only 5 percent of us wash hands correctly."

See a short video on the study here about the study by Michigan State University. Researchers found that only 5 percent of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections. Video by G.L. Kohuth. Also, you may want to check out the sites, "CDC: Clean hands save lives" and the PDF format article "Hand washing study."

Hand washing is the single most effective thing one can do to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Failing to sufficiently wash one’s hands contributes to nearly 50 percent of all foodborne illness outbreaks. It takes 15 to 20 seconds of vigorous hand washing with soap and water to effectively kill the germs, the CDC says, yet the study found that people are only washing their hands, on average, for about 6 seconds.

Borchgrevink and colleagues trained a dozen college students in data collection and had them observe hand washing in restrooms in bars, restaurants and other public establishments. The student researchers were as unobtrusive as possible – by standing off to the side and entering results on a smart phone, for example.

The study is one of the first to take into account factors such as duration of the hand washing and whether people used soap

Specific findings include the following information:

  • Fifteen percent of men didn’t wash their hands at all, compared with 7 percent of women.
  • When they did wash their hands, only 50 percent of men used soap, compared with 78 percent of women.
  • People were less likely to wash their hands if the sink was dirty.
  • Hand washing was more prevalent earlier in the day. Borchgrevink said this suggests people who were out at night for a meal or drinks were in a relaxed mode and hand washing became less important.
  • People were more likely to wash their hands if a sign encouraging them to do so was present.

Borchgrevink, who worked as a chef and restaurant manager before becoming a researcher, said the findings have implications for both consumers and those who operate restaurants and hotels.

“Imagine you’re a business owner and people come to your establishment and get foodborne illness through the fecal-oral route – because people didn’t wash their hands – and then your reputation is on the line,” he said. “You could lose your business.” Borchgrevink’s co-authors were Jae Min Cha and Sung Hyun Kim. All three are faculty members in MSU’s School of Hospitality Business.

77% of males wash their hands when leaving the restroom, says one study

Now another new study from the International Communication Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 77% of males wash their hands when leaving the restroom. Recent research, published in the journal Human Communication Research, found that this figure increased to 86% among men who were primed with messages in bathrooms. You can read the study or its abstract, "Testing the Effects of Social Norms and Behavioral Privacy on Hand Washing: A Field Experiment." Human Communication Research.

How do you make the point to those males who never wash their hands after they use the toilet and then touch the bathroom doorknob and go right into touching utensils or your restaurant food or supermarket produce or deli items? Most of these men who don't wash up after touching a lot of objects full of bacteria may not even know there are nasty microbes on their hands.

Then they touch the doorknob that you touch. And the microbes can be passed around on trays, airplane eating surfaces, in your home, and on the job or in hotel rooms where no one cleans the light switches you touch. That's one way outbreaks spread. But what helps most, are messages on posters. Even at home, reminding men to use soap when washing hands becomes taken as nasty nagging. Silence may be golden, but messages on posters do the job in a small way.

College-aged males reported washing their hands only 75% of the time after using the toilet

What people worry about is that college-aged males are working in fast-food eateries and restaurants and preparing food whether their in college or on the job. Why aren't they washing hands after using the bathroom? Human communications researchers took a survey.

Maria Lapinski, Michigan State University; Erin Maloney, University of Pennsylvania; Mary Braz, Westchester University; and Hillary Shulman, North Central College published in Human Communication Research their findings from a field study of college-aged men. Conducted at Michigan State University, males were surveyed and self-reported washing their hands 75% of the time.

What the messages on the signs read to motivate the men to 'connect' with the goal

This led to a field experiment where signs were posted in bathrooms that read "4 out of 5 Males Wash Their Hands," with pictures of students wearing MSU hats and a guide to effective hand washing. Researchers in the bathroom then recorded hand-washing behavior and marked how well the guide was followed. When the participants exited the bathroom they were approached by experimenters and willing participants filled out a questionnaire.

The findings suggested that men who are exposed to a relatable message in the bathroom are more likely to wash their hands and ran the water longer than participants not exposed to the messages. This can have huge implications on public health, particularly during cold and flu season.

"It is important from a public health standpoint, because quality hand washing can prevent transmission of many diseases and we have good evidence that people typically don't do it as often or as well as they should," Lapinski explained in the January 11, 2013 news release, Specialized messages increase likelihood of male hand washing.

"This investigation not only advances communication theory in meaningful ways," said John Courtright, editor of Human Communication Research and professor at the University of Delaware, "But it also increases our knowledge about the important role of communication in health campaigns." The International Communication Association is an academic association for scholars interested in the study, teaching, and application of all aspects of human and mediated communication.

In the study, relatable signs in bathrooms lead to 86 percent of male participants washing their hands

The problem of motivating males to wash their hands after touching items full of bacteria such as computer keyboards, lamp switches, mail, parcels, and most secret of all, after leaving the restroom may be partially solved in a new study showing messages on bathroom walls can help.

Also a study showed that one in six cell phones are covered with fecal matter bacteria and could spread E. coli and other microbes, especially if one uses a cell phone and then picks up food to eat such as a sandwich. Lots of people sit down to eat lunch or a snack and use their cell phone, not realizing it's covered with well, fecal matter too small to be seen, but teeming with harmful bacteria. See, the USA Today article, "1 in 6 phones have E.coli traces."

It's likely because so many people don't wash their hands properly after using the toilet, a new study contends. The findings also suggest that many people lie about their hygiene habits, according to the researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London.

If you want clean hands, wash with soap and water and rub the hands

Before turning on the water (so as not to waste water) rub your hands vigorously with soap and sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice

It takes a few minutes for the bacteria to slide off your hands before you rinse the soap off your hands with warm water. The signs worked better than the thought of a loud, booming or shrill, nagging voice ordering men to wash with soap before leaving the restroom. The signs were designed to be 'relatable," that is establish association and connection.

It's the rubbing not only the soap that gets off the bacteria after you rinse the soap. Take time to wash with soap and rinse by singing two rounds of "happy birthday to you" to yourself. That's how long it takes to rub off a lot of the bacteria that you don't want on other objects.

Sanitizer on wet paper towelettes in supermarkets

Many supermarkets in Sacramento and elsewhere have a box of hand sanitizers that mostly women use to wipe down the handles of shopping carts in the store, especially when toddlers sit in the shopping carts with sticky hands from eating snacks or drooling. But men usually don't use the sanitizer towelettes, if you observe people walking into and out of supermarkets for hours daily.

Can more handwashing messages cut down virus outbreaks when hand sanitizers don't work against some of those viruses?Men's ties and women's scarfs that look like ties carry germs. Bow ties are another solution in the HAI Primary Infection Prevention arena. See, No Ties or Bow Ties. People sneeze and cough right down on their ties or similar neck scarves that carry and spread germs.

Not enough people wash their hands enough

You don't want to develop a compulsion to wash your hands over and over. But just to keep clean around food, plates, pans, and packaging of foods. See, Study: Americans Don't Wash Their Hands Enough - ABC News and Getting Doctors to Wash Their Hands - Men don't wash their hands with soap as much as they need to. See, Men Don't Wash Hands & Strong Immune System -- Health Blog. Women wash their hands using soap more frequently than men do using soap.

While 89 percent of the men claimed to wash their hands every time they used a public bathroom in the interviews, only 66 percent actually did so, according to the article, Men Don't Wash Hands & Strong Immune System -- Health Blog. The women in the study also showed a discrepancy, with 96 percent claiming on the phone that they always washed, but only 88 percent actually doing so. These results make it appear that far more people wash after using the toilet than the recent research by Dr. Curtis reveals. Check out the article for more details of the study.

The five principles of clean hand awareness are the following:

1. Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating or preparing and serving food as well as after using the bathroom or handling doorknobs or public shopping cart handles.

2. Don't cough or sneeze into into your hands. Instead sneeze or cough into the bend of your elbow or into your collar, to keep your hands free of the microbes expelled by the sneeze or cough.

3. Don't use your hands to pick your nose or ears. Use a tissue or cloth. And then wash your hands with soap. The wax in your ears is full of bad bacteria. And

4. Don't rub or put your fingers around your eyes and then touch food you're serving to someone else. Never put your fingers in your mouth or put plastic gloves between your teeth to separate the gloves or to wet your fingers to give change, separate papers, pick up a paper bag, or put on plastic gloves.

5. Customers don't want your spit on their grocery bag, paper money, or other item such as the plastic gloves you put on to handle food. And your computer keyboard has more microbes than your toilet bowl. Wash your hands and clean your keyboard before eating, preparing food, or touching your face, eyes, nose, mouth, or ears. This applies also to public computers, hotel phones, remote controls for TVs, doorknobs and switches on lamps.

The goal of the annual National Handwashing Awareness Week is to decrease the spread of infectious diseases by empowering individuals to educate and help protect their communities

Working together everyone can make a difference either through planning local events in your area or sharing online with your community. How about classrooms putting up the poster or discussing how important handwashing is before someone puts a finger in the eye, nose, or mouth and transmits some superbug into the body from an infected surface, smart phone, or computer keyboard?

Are you getting tired of walking to a restaurant or other type of eatery and seeing the food server wet his fingers on his tongue in order to pick up a fresh pair of plastic gloves only to wipe the spitty fingers on the other plastic glove as he pulls it over his fingers? It's happened here--twice, that old habit where the server on "automatic pilot" wets his or her fingers on the tongue, then proceeds to don plastic gloves.

Prevent more flu and cold germs from spreading when people touch public computer keyboards or shopping cart handles in food markets

You'll see this same practice on some check-out clerks in supermarkets wetting their fingers on their tongue to separate dollar bills, then giving you change or packing your food with wet fingers from their tongue, not from a little wet cloth or sponge on the counter. Messages on walls, not shrill voices can be used to remind people who have just touched your food in front of your eyes after having wiped their fingers across their tongue to open a plastic bag, don gloves, or give change.

How often does the checkout clerk at the supermarket you frequent use the little sponge on the counter compared to how many times he or she wipes fingers across tongue to wet the fingers in order to give change, open a plastic bag, or in an eatery, put on plastic gloves that seem to be stuck together?

Actually, the same person who gives change isn't supposed to handle your food, but it happens in front of your eyes in fast-food eateries or even elegant restaurants or supermarkets. Fast-food eateries that are in league with the big chains are under tighter controls than individual restaurants owned by a mom and pop management, even with frequent inspections for all types of eateries.

Often the check-out person smells the parsley or cilantro, handles it, and puts it back in the bag after having wiped his or her nose on her fingers or sneezed and coughed into his or her hands. Remind the food preparers, handlers, and there exists a National Handwashing Week. Or tell the manager to put up a poster. You also could advise the manager that employees should use those little wet cloths or sponges on their counters instead of their fingers wiped across their tongues. They probably learned this habit as preschoolers from parents.

People in restaurants, schools, and other public places can use a good etiquette poster that communicates the importance of hand washing. Whether you're trying to educate on how to prevent the spread of the flu, Norovirus, or any other communicable disease, you may want to suggest products that provide the perfect solution to motivate people to wash their hands by offering posters with clever, thought-provoking graphics.

People don't cough into the bend of their inner elbow or sleeve like the should - they cough and sneeze into their balled fist or open palms or simply turn their head and then touch items that you eat not realizing a sneeze or cough sends the viruses for yards in all directions

In fact, if you're in a job or situation where people have to constantly wash hands, such as a nursing home, hospital, community center, senior center, music or dance school, preschool, church, or any other public situation, a poster might come in handy to remind people to wash hands after sneezing or coughing, using the restroom, or touching their computer keyboard and then touching their face.

Make it a point to encourage hygiene etiquette and hand washing by dispensing preventive supplies such as sanitizers and tissues while providing valuable educational messages. In an elementary school, students might make posters in art class to remind others in pictures and lettering to wash their hands.

If you're touching or preparing food and if you're worried about the "super bug" spreading in your area, brought from any given number of people who had sought medical care in India recently, the super bug or mutation is now in three states--California, Massachusetts, and Illinois as well as in Canada and in several European countries.

Norovirus mutates into a nastier virus

This winter you have a new mutation of the norovirus that's nasty. The problem spread from international travel and is now in the USA. And there are various other mutated super bugs in circulation around the globe that came here with modern transportation. The problem with this mutated super bug is that it has been made resistant to nearly all antibiotics. You can read more about this bug in the September 14, 2010 Sacramento Bee article "'Super bug' is spreading from India."(reprinted from the Associated Press news article by Marilynn Marachione).

Basically, a gene mutation makes this bacteria immune to drugs. The bacteria is spread from hand to mouth. It hitches onto many types of other bacteria, and is found in bacteria causing intestinal or urinary infections. That's why hygiene such as washing hands properly is so important, and why it may have an impact on what is fed to children in Sacramento's school lunch program, if the bacteria got into that stream, which so far, it has not. So watch out for the gene, called NDM-1.

Three types of bacteria are involved with three different mechanisms that allowed the 'gene' to become part of their systems. Have you traveled recently to India or Pakistan for any kind of medical procedures? Or have you come in contact with people who have traveled? What if you ate food from them and they didn't wash their hands?

The gene is carried by bacteria that spreads from hand to mouth, for example as in preparing food. Do you overuse antibiotics? Lab tests showed the people who came down with this bacterial infection did not respond to any known antibiotics. Yet all of them survived. News stories do not reveal how the patients were treated.

Is the super bug just one hand-washing away from infecting more people, including Sacramento's school kids? Drug resistance has been rising because so many people are taking too many antibiotics for too long, perhaps for issues that aren't helped by antibiotics, such as viruses and colds.

Did you ever think about who is handling the food your kids eat in school and whether they wash their hands enough or whether they wipe their nose, mouth, or sweaty forehead with their plastic gloves on? Or whether they transfer their facial herpes outbreaks to fingers and to food or mouth?

Are food handlers washing their hands with soap?

Few people know how to wash hands to get rid of bacteria other than rinsing with water. First you lather your hands with soap. Then you rub your fingers and palms together for a few seconds, not just for a split second. The person once voted to have the most bacteria-free hands lathered up and rubbed hands and fingers together while singing silently the "Happy birthday to you" song twice and normal speed. Then rinsed of the hands. You don't need anti-bacterial soap.

Of course, all food handlers are supposed to be clean, wash appropriately, and keep the food clean. That's why many are video-recorded serving or preparing food by their bosses. Or are they? Then, it's not the food handlers, but the contaminated beef, if it exists, that might expose your children in school to lunches from possibly contaminated beef. Is this a scare tactic you see frequently in the media? If it concerns you, check out the articles on contaminated beef in some school lunch programs. The USDA has reports on this issue.

Contaminated food and lunch programs discussed in USDA report

You might want to look at an article, "Dirty, contaminated beef fed to children through school lunch programs," that discusses the USDA recent report. See the USDA's March 2, 2010 report on its monitoring of cattle residue. What's really getting into some of the beef? Read about the condition of the nation's industrial meat supply.

It turns out that a lot of the U.S. meat supply is tainted with veterinary drugs, pesticides and heavy metals. Also check out the site, "Join Henry in “linking” Clean Hands Across America and our World." See, "Hand Washing Awareness Poster Contest."

According to the report, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, or FSIS, continues to fail at properly monitoring the safety of the nation's meat supply. So tainted meat is regularly being approved for sale, much of which ends up in school lunch rooms where it is fed to children, according to the article, "Dirty, contaminated beef fed to children through school lunch programs."

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