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Personal Hygiene: “On The Light Side” 

By Jean Dible, GA Food Safety Professionals

Your Food Safety Connection

 

At times, internet jokes are more fact than fiction, and I could not resist this new twist to an old story concerning personal hygiene in a public bathroom. Please read this internet joke, and there is a message for both male or female readers..

If you are female (guys, please continue to read) and have to visit a public bathroom, you often find a line of women, so you wait your turn for a stall. Finally, a door opens and you dash in, nearly knocking down the woman leaving the stall.

You get in to find the door will not latch. It does not matter, the wait has been so long you are about to wet your pants! The dispenser for the modern “seat covers” is handy, but empty. You would hang your purse on the door hook, if there were one, but there is not a hook. You quickly drape the purse straps around your neck, (Mom would have turned over in her grave if you put the purse on the floor with all the nasty bacteria!) You yank down your pants and assume “The Stance.”

To take your mind off your trembling thighs, you reach for what you discover to be the empty toilet paper dispenser. In your mind, you can hear your mother’s voice say, “Honey, if you had tried to clean the seat before using the toilet, you would have discovered there was no toilet paper!” Your thighs shake more.

You remember the tiny tissue that you blew your nose on yesterday – the one that is still in your purse. That would have to do. You crumple it in the puffiest way possible. It is still smaller than your thumbnail.

Someone pushes your door open because the latch does not work. The door hits your purse, which is handing around your neck in front of your chest, and you and your purse topple backwards against the tank of the toilet. “Occupied!” you scream, as you reach for the door, dropping your precious, tiny, crumpled tissue in a puddle on the floor, lose your footing altogether, and slide down directly onto the toilet seat. It is wet, of course. You bolt up, knowing all too well that it is too late.

Your bare bottom has made contact with every imaginable bacteria or virus and other life forms on the uncovered seat because you never laid down toilet paper – not that there was any to lay down. “You just can’t figure out what kind of a disease that you could end up with because your butt touched the toilet seat.
By this time, the automatic sensor on the back of the toilet is so confused that it flushed, propelling a stream of water like a fire hose against the inside of the bowl that sprays a fine mist of water that covers your butt and runs down your legs and into your shoes. The flush somehow sucks everything down with such force that you grab onto the empty toilet paper dispenser for fear of being dragged in too. At this point, you give up. The spewing water and the wet toilet seat soak you. You are exhausted! You try to wipe with a gum wrapper you found in your pocket and then slink out inconspicuously to the sinks.

You cannot figure out how to operate the faucets with the automatic sensors, so you wipe your hands with spit and a dry paper towel and walk past the line of women, still waiting for a stall. You are no longer able to smile politely to them. A kind soul at the very end of the line points out a piece of toilet paper trailing from your shoe. (Where was that when you needed it?) You yank the paper from your shoe, plunk it in the woman’s hand and tell her warmly, “Here, you just might need this.”

This little humorous analysis of a woman’s experience in a public restroom had to be written by a woman (unknown author), and finally explains to men what really takes women so long in a bathroom. It takes time to protect a woman’s butt in a stall.

The message here is really a double edge sword. Both women and men are often more concerned about what touches their butts than what touches their hands in a public restroom or any place else. After using the restroom, a huge percentage of the population do not wash their hands or do not wash their hands properly, which means those people are spreading illness to others via their hands. According to the CDC, Center For Disease Control, infectious diseases, many of which are spread by unclean hands, remain the number one cause of death and disease worldwide and the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

Back tracking into our imaginary bathroom scene again, even when many male or female patrons wash their hands, they are only giving lip service to the project. A high percentage of bathroom attendees will stick their fingers under the water, usually cold, grab a paper towel, dry their fingertips and exit the bathroom quickly. This exercise is for show, if another person is in the sink area watching the individual. If there is no other person around, the bathroom attendee is usually out the bathroom exit door while the toilet is still flushing.

Hand washing cannot be done halfway. It has to be done correctly to prevent contamination to others. Washing hands with soap and clean hot water for a minimum of 20-seconds is a sensible strategy for hand hygiene in a (non-healthcare setting) and is recommended by the CDC and all experts throughout the world. If clean hot water and soap are not available, an alcohol-based (60% alcohol or higher) hand hygiene sanitizer product is recommended. However, alcohol sanitizers will not kill bacteria or viruses on hands if the hands are visibly soiled. Alcohol is fragile and cannot cut through oil, dirt, food, or other visible contaminates on the hands to kill pathogens on the skin. If you can’t get to clean water to wash the hands, always carry clean, moist wipes to clean the hands first to remove visible soil before even entertaining using a hand sanitizer on the hands. This is an important step when cleaning and sanitizing the hands without the availability of clean water and soap.

According to the CDC, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20-minutes to 2 or more hours on surfaces like hands, tables, doorknobs and other hard surfaces. Colds and Flu viruses are certainly spread via human hands, but more important is Foodborne Illness that can be spread by failure to wash the hands, or insufficiently washing the hands. The CDC states that almost 50-per cent of foodborne illness outbreaks occur via the spread of bacteria or viruses through contaminated hands. Food-related disease costs the states between $5-$6 billion each year in health care expenditures and production losses. What could a foodborne outbreak aboard an aircraft, cost your corporation or General Aviation sub-contractors in dollars and reputation? PLENTY!

When flight attendants, pilots, or dispatchers have to order food for a flight, they always think about the quality and safety of the food from the restaurant or catering service they order from, which is extremely important. HOWEVER, food safety is a chain of events, with many participants, in the flow of the food; from preparation, proper cooking & cooling temperatures for hot foods, correct holding temperatures for hot and cold foods in the manufacturing kitchen, correct delivery temperatures, proper holding temperatures in the aircraft, as well as physical time-constraints for holding potentially dangerous foods.

It is easy to blame the source of the purchased food if there is a foodborne outbreak on an aircraft, right? Flight crews should not be so quick to blame a foodborne illness on your food supplier. Aviation employees in the holding or delivery of the food to the passengers may have contaminated the purchased food for an aircraft. Humans have good and bad habits, and these habits carry over from private to professional life, and that includes personal hygiene and hand washing. Below is information concerning “A Survey of Hand Washing Behavior,” which was conducted by the American Society For Microbiology in 2005. The purpose of the research was to increase public awareness of the importance of hand washing. There were different methodology’s used to gather information on hand washing, but the one that I will share here is the methodology that took place at Public Attraction Observations. I think the numbers will speak for themselves. The company, which is Harris Interactive , actually conducted the survey for the Microbiology Society.  Harris Interactive observed the behavior of 6,336 individuals in public restrooms located at major public attractions in the U.S. and recorded their findings for hand washing. The research was conducted in four cities and at six different locations:

  • Atlanta – Turner Field

  • Chicago – Museum of Science & Industry and the Shedd Aquarium

  •  New Your City – Penn Station and Grand Central Station

  •  San Francisco – Ferry Terminal Farmers Market

Observers discreetly watched and recorded whether or not adults using public restrooms washed their hands. Observers were instructed to groom themselves (comb their hair, put on makeup, etc.) while observing and to rotate bathrooms every hour or so to avoid counting repeat users more than once. Observers were also instructed to wash their hands no more than 10% of the time.

 

 

Location

 

Male

Washers

Yes

 

Male

Washers

No

 

Female

Washers

Yes

 

Female

Washers

No

 

 

Total

Atlanta

493

285

682

128

1,588

Atlanta’s Turner Field had the worst hand hygiene habits. 26% of all observed did not wash their hands. Females washed their hands 84% of the time. Males only washed their hands 63% of the time.

 

 

Location

 

Male

Washers

Yes

 

Male

Washers

No

 

Female

Washers

Yes

 

Female

Washers

No

 

 

Total

Chicago

612

128

707

52

1,499

Chicago: Shedd Aquarium 93% of women washed their hands. 85% of men washed their hands.

Chicago: Museum of Science & Industry: 93% of women washed hands. 81% of men washed their hands.

 

 

Location

 

Male

Washers

Yes

 

Male

Washers

NO

 

Female

Washers

Yes

 

Female

Washers

No

 

 

Total

NY

491

261

679

72

1,503

New York: Grand Central Station: Female washers 89%, Male washers: 67%

New York: Penn Station: Female washers 92%, Male washers 64%

 

 

Location

 

Male

Washers

Yes

 

Male

Washers

NO

 

Female

Washers

Yes

 

Female

Washers

No

 

 

Total

San

Francisco

 

787

 

139

 

734

 

76

 

1,736

 San Francisco: Ferry Terminal Farmers Marker: Female washers 91%, Male washers 85%

Overall, in all of the surveys conducted concerning hand washing in 2005, 90% of women were observed washing their hands, compared to only 75% of men.  Last but not least, in the phone survey methodology of conducting hand washing interviews concerning washing hands before handling or eating food, the results are as follows:

Women: Usually wash hands: 93% - Always wash hands: 82%

Men: Usually wash hands: 87% - Always wash hands: 71%

“ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE TOOLS IN THE PREVENTION OF
FOODBORNE ILLNESS IS LITERALLY AT OUR FINGERTIPS


References:

  • CDC: Center For Disease Control: Atlanta, GA

  • American Society For Microbiology


Author Information:

 

Jean Dible is president and founder of GA Food Safety Professionals, a mobile food & alcohol safety training school in Atlanta, GA. Jean is a contributing writer to the Corporate Flight Attendant Community website; her Your Food Safety Connection column appears here on a bi-monthly basis.