Monthly Archives: May 2015

Chicken is OK to eat, as long as you’re careful

Girl with chicken
There’s a problem with chicken? I never knew there was a problem with chicken

Well, here we are.

One week on from Food Safety Week – one week on from the 2015 Chicken Challenge – and most of us are still alive. A roll of drumsticks please!

Yep, we’re learning.

Doing the bold thing

Thanks to sterling efforts by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we’re all making the effort to avoid food poisoning from chicken by:

  • keeping raw chicken separate from other all other food, where it can’t drip or leak on the bottom shelf of the fridge
  • not washing raw chicken or splashing water from it around as this spreads highly contagious campylobacter germs
  • actively washing everything that’s been in contact with raw chicken to remove germs from cutting boards, utensils, and of course hands – all with plenty of soap and hot water
  • ensuring chicken is thoroughly cooked through – no more pink meat and juices running clear

Do all these things and we’re safe from the widespread campylobacter bug – the one that causes more of us to have cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea than any other common tummy germ.

Widespread? Oh yes. It’s the UK’s No 1 cause of tummy upsets.

Most birds, all birds

Hardly surprising as around 75% of all poultry has campylobacter resident in its gut. And we are a nation of chicken-eaters – 2.2 million chickens a week, 803 million chickens a year.

That’s a meal of chicken at least once a month for everyone in the UK.

Which has the FSA breathing fire and brimstone that poultry producers and the supermarkets should be doing something about it. They want birds with campylobacter reduced to zero. 280,000 people a year go ill with campylobacter – and this is the Twenty-First Century for goodness sake!

Other people are in on the act too. Like the consumer heavy who said: “It beggars belief that nearly three-quarters of chickens on sale in supermarkets are still infected with this potentially deadly bug and that no retailers have met the FSA’s target.”

Infected?

Healthy as nature intended

Time to get real. You see, 75% of all poultry has campylobacter because it occurs naturally in birds. Their digestive system is not the same as ours, so the bacterium is benign, non-pathogenic, harmless.

Inhabited, yes, but not infected. All these birds are perfectly healthy.

Robbing them of campylobacter could even do them harm.

Besides, we know the dangers and how to fix them, why point a finger at the poultry farmers?

It’s like locking up cows because they get muddy feet. Well of course they do, they eat grass – and in this green, green, rain-drenched UK of ours, grass gets wet all the time, so mud is inevitable.

But we don’t penalise the cows for muddy feet – just like we don’t penalise chickens for having campylobacter.

We have a defence

Heat through pasteurisation kills the germs in milk – and heat through cooking kills the germs in chickens.

So yes, it’s right to make a fuss, the FSA is right. But not by controlling the birds.

By fixing the packaging.

By protecting us from any leaks or contamination from raw chicken meat, right through to the cooked birds which are harmless.

And yes, right now most packaging is pretty manky. Rack ’em, stack ’em, and pack ’em bargain basement stuff that leaks all over the place – no wonder we come down with the bug.

About the best are cook-in-the-bag prepared recipes. Safe because the chicken and all ingredients are sealed in to make sure the recipe works.

But check out any of the El Cheapo packs of wings and drumsticks – it’s a whole other story.

And if that stuff leaks on your other shopping, on in the fridge when you finally get it home, the family could be in for a really ropey few days.

Time for action

Yeah, so come on FSA – hit those guys hard for better packaging and everybody will be better off.

Until then though, don’t take chances. Keep your chicken in its own separate plastic wrapping away from everything else – and don’t forget to wash your hands. (Tweet this)

Bon appetit!

Nobody eats raw chicken, so why the problems?

Girl shrugs shoulders
If all birds have the bug and cooking
kills it, they’re all safe to eat, right?

280,000 problems to be exact.

That’s the number of people who come down with campylobacter in a year – a really yucky stomach upset that makes you super-queasy, gives you the runs, and triggers some of the worst cramps you’ve ever experienced.

UK’s biggest villain

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA ), campylobacter is far and away the UK’s biggest cause of food poisoning. Worse than its nasty friends norovirus, salmonella and e.coli – all horrible bugs that you get from eating something.

That means chicken if you’re unfortunate enough to catch campylobacter. An unpleasant stomach upset that can take you out for three days, even cause paralysis and death.

And the FSA is right to jump up and down about it.

Around 75% of poultry has it – chickens, turkeys, a lot of other animals too. It lives naturally in their gut without harm, probably even helping with digestion – like lactobacillus does in our own systems.

Trouble is, our metabolisms are quite different to chickens. What’s good for you goose is not good for you gander – once campylobacter gets loose in your digestive system, you’re in for a roller-coaster tough time.

Uh huh. So if if 75% of poultry has it, why don’t we crash out with campylobacter all the time?

The heat is on

Because, lucky us, all traces of campylobacter are completely destroyed by cooking. (Tweet this) Once the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear, that chicken is safe to eat for everyone.

Kinda vital when you remember that chicken is one of our least expensive and popular foods – in everything from fast food to posh nosh.

But this campylobacter stuff is a mean player. It’s highly contagious, and just one drop of moisture or juices from a contaminated bird is enough to bring down a whole restaurant.

Which is why the FSA is continually jumping up and down about NOT washing raw chicken. The water you use and the splashes it makes are all contaminated.

So are utensils you might use – chopping boards and work surfaces too – which is why washing them down thoroughly is essential.

Hand hygiene

Your hands too, of course.

We’re none of us as sharp as we should be with hand hygiene, and forgetting to wash probably causes more illnesses throughout the country than anything else. Campylobacter alone costs us around £900 million a year in NHS treatment and lost productivity.

OK, so don’t wash raw chicken. Don’t eat it either. Common sense really. Like don’t eat unshelled seafood or unpeeled fruit – doing that will make you sick too.

Even so, a lot of people keep getting sick – so the FSA also jump up and down about controlling poultry production and why don’t supermarkets insist on only trouble-free birds?

Er, excuse us – totally, utterly wrong.

Blame the packaging

75% of all birds – we’re talking 2.2 million birds a week here. That’s how many we eat – more popular than fish and chips. Chicken tikka masala, right?

Culling that lot and starting again would bankrupt the industry – and push shopping budgets through the roof.

The nation’s Number One popular food suddenly at premium prices – they’ll have your guts for garters, mate!

Much more sense to target the packaging. Easier to control too.

Walk into Aldi, and you’ll see whole chickens have the label DON’T WASH RAW CHICKEN. That’s a good start. Add a warning that it must also be properly cooked and we’re getting somewhere.

But walk into ANY supermarket and just look the packaging. Most of the time, its shrink-wrapped onto a styrene tray, not even vacuum-sealed. Not good, Jim.

Distributed like that, any liquids from the product can leak. Onto others in the refrigerated lorry. Onto others in the display cabinets. Onto others in your fridge at home.

And one drop is all it takes – wow, wow, wow, campylobacter for the whole family.

Not from the chicken, which was properly cooked and enjoyed. But from the splash of liquid that fell onto the fresh tomatoes you had in the vegetable drawer underneath.

A bad dose of that and they’ll have to pump your stomach at A&E.

An un-problem really

Properly cooked, chicken is not a problem – look at KFC.  The same sourced chicken as all other supermarkets in UK, and campylobacter doesn’t happen.

So most birds have campylobacter, get over it.

And even if you could isolate the “clean” ones, how are you going to prevent contamination from others – cull all the robins and sparrows and blackbirds too?

Insist on sealed, leak-proof packaging and the problem goes away.

Nobody eats raw chicken. Period.

Which brings the real problem right back to washing hands and everything you use to prep the food with.

Clean or else

They should make it a law – wash everything properly, or you could die.

Hey, wait a minute, that’s already true!

One chance too many and out we go, feet first.

We have been warned.

Deceptive appearances – “clean” can be infectious

Woman with magnifier
Just because it’s clean doesn’t mean it’s germ-free

You can’t see germs, they’re too unbelievably small.

You can tell when they’re around though – the smell of something “off” or the discolouration of growths like mould.

And of course, the swelling round a cut, or the queasiness in your tummy.

Hungry to eat – you

They’re hard at work, doing the only thing they know how – eat. And it’s when they eat you, that you start feeling sick.

So the thing is, to stop them before they get the chance – a constant war against them, even though they’re invisible.

Uh huh.

But we’re surrounded by billions and billions of germs, all the time – mostly bacteria. They’re even inside our bodies, living in harmony – doing useful work, like help us digest food.

There’s still billions more, some good, some bad – tuberculosis for example is a very unpleasant experience. There’s viruses too – also not so good for us – unable to function properly without a warm human body. And all too ready to bring us down.

It’s because of germs that we have to keep cleaning things – not just that they’re yucky. They’re dangerous and infectious. (Tweet this)

We see the dirt, we rub or scrape it off, rinse away any residue – and assume that’s good enough.

Germs never give up

Except that germs are much more pernicious than that. And when you get down to microbial levels, what you think might be a smooth surface isn’t smooth at all. It’s like a rocky mountain range, with plenty of rocks and crags to hang onto.

That countertop you’ve just wiped down might LOOK clean, but could still be infested.

OK, we’re aware of that, which is why we use germ-killing cleaners like bleach. Oxidising action destroys the germs, so we’re safe.

In theory.

But like we said, germs are pernicious – and persistent.

Scrub, scrub

Was the bleach solution strong enough? Was it there long enough to kill everything? And didn’t you have to wipe it off afterwards, so remaining bleach couldn’t contaminate anything?

Chances are, only half the germs got clobbered – and anything else you wiped could have picked them up too – that wiping cloth is a double-edged sword.

Right, so it’s rub-scrub-wipe, rub-scrub-wipe all over the place – work surfaces, furniture tops, floors – and hopefully it’s safe. It certainly looks sparkling – a few hours well spent.

Well yes, but germs don’t just sit on flat surfaces, they’re everywhere else too – the walls, cupboard doors, the ceiling, behind things, underneath, and in every nook and cranny.

Oh yes, and the air of course – it’s 80% of the room space. Floating, swirling, drifting, hovering – so small and light they may never fall to the floor. Billions and billions of them, ready to catch on your skin or clothing, or for you to breathe them in.

Aargh! What can you do?

The Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease

For a start, wash your hands. You use them for everything and most germs spread on contact. So if they’re on your hands, they can transfer to everything you touch. Infectious, infectious!

Wash Hands Logo
Your personal everyday defence against germs

Like the soft tissue round your eyes, nose and mouth – because, would you believe, most of us touch our faces 2,000 – 3,000 times a day!

Want to know how nasties like norovirus get to you most of the time? From germs on your hands in contact with all kinds of things – other people, common objects, or believe it or not, from the loo. Your hands are infectious.

Which why, in this blog, we refer to it as the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

So what about the rest of the job, all those nooks and crannies? And how in the world can you scrub the air?

Total room steriliser

The easy answer is with a Hypersteriliser.

You’ve done the main work and got rid of the dirt and gunge. Now comes the follow-up to do everything else – and to destroy ALL germs completely.

Press the button and the Hypersteriliser generates an ultra-fine mist of hydrogen peroxide – quickly filling the place like the bathroom when you’re having a shower.

It’s no ordinary mist either. This stuff is ionised, with highly charged electrons all trying to escape each other, pushing in all directions to get away. This forces them everywhere – up, out, underneath and behind, deep into cracks and crevices – as far away from each other as they can get.

The same charge attracts them actively to fixed or floating cells of viruses and bacteria. They grab hold like a magnet, shoving atoms of oxygen at them – ripping their whole cell structure apart.

No germ survives this oxidising action. They are dead and gone – the whole place is sterile.

And the hydrogen peroxide? Without its charge any more, it reverts to oxygen and water – and an ultra thin, infinitesimally wafer-like layer of silver – used as a germ-killing booster and left behind as a protective antibiotic coating.

Yes, everything looks clean – and now the germ threshold is zero. No bugs anywhere, except the ones you might bring in with you.

And they’re no problem either – you HAVE washed your hands, haven’t you?

How much more self-inflicted sickness can you take?

Girl with gun to head
We bring it on ourselves,
but we CAN wash our hands of it

Vomit, run to the loo, tummy cramps.

Loo again, more cramps, heave-ho de luxe.

Recognise it? Your old friend is back.

Enough to make you puke

Norovirus, food poisoning, gastro – whatever the medics are calling it this week.

You have our sympathies, it’s never very nice.

We’re not that sorry though – chances are highly likely you brought it on yourself.

What! How dare we be so heartless?

No, we don’t buy that you ate something and it disagreed with you. More likely we suspicion it was the bug you swallowed with it when you chowed it down.

Transferred off your hand, onto your food, then straight down your gullet.

That’s right, YOU caused it – and you probably never even knew.

Your fingerprints all over it

Because, before that meal, when was the last time you washed your hands?

No, it’s not an accusation.

Blame it on the high-powered lifestyles we’re all expected to lead – stampeding us through our day with hardly time to breathe – even grabbing lunch on the run.

And there’s the cause, right there.

Sure, you had heartburn because you ate so fast. But the upchucks and the runs? Unmistakeably Norovirus the Nasty – highly contagious and transmitted by touch, usually from your hand.

Which is why we call it the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

What’s the bet you had no chance to wash your hands right through morning and into lunch – or even afterwards, with urgent meetings racked up, one after the other?

Wash Hands Logo
We’ve got to re-learn new habits
if we’re going to stay alive

So the germs hit your stomach and had time to kick out. Now you’re feeling like death and want to crawl under a rock.

Totally preventable of course – all you had to do was wash your hands. See what we mean by self-inflicted?

And yes, it did come from your hands.

Check the evidence

Because it’s another most uncomfortable fact that our hygiene habits are almost non-existent.

Yucky fact No 1, 95% of us don’t wash our hands properly after going to the loo.

Yucky fact No 2, 62% of men and 40% of women don’t even bother.

Which means after going for a dump, then galloping to work on the train – holding the same grab-handles as other people who had a dump – then the grime on the escalator handrails, or the taxi door handle – straight into handling the day’s mail from the postie who also had a dump – then a few hours at the keyboard with burger grease and mayonnaise traces and finally scoffing the coronation chicken … you get where this is going.

And though a lot of us do, you can hardly blame it on the shop that made your sarnie.

If you don’t wash your hands more often than you do, you are the cause of your own anguish.

Deadly consequences

And with the way germs are becoming more resistant to antibiotics and other medicines, it’s becoming a case of learn new habits or die.

Die?

Never knew washing your hands could be a life and death issue?

Norovirus kills 80 a year. Salmonella about the same. In fact foodborne diseases take out around 500 people a year.

Sure, it’s possible to clobber germs in the places we live and work so they can’t get to us.

Effective defence

There’s a thing called a Hypersteriliser which destroys all viruses and bacteria by releasing an ultra-fine mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide – germs are ripped apart by oxidising – and minutes later the place is sterile.

Because it’s ionised, the stuff reaches everywhere, attracted by electrostatic charge.

It doesn’t touch what’s on your hands though. Or anything you might bring in on your clothes. And if you’ve already got a cold –or norovirus, which is almost as common – you’re going to have to live with it.

Keep you hands clean though, and you can protect yourself from catching anything new.

No more self-inflicted misery – and a lot happier life.

Hand wash ritual to save us all from vomiting bug

Girl showing hands
Super clean, before every meal – super healthy, every day

Know that expression, “if you can’t beat them, join them”?

Applied to the awkward fact that 95% of us don’t wash our hands properly after going to the loo, we don’t like the way it’s looking at us.

Especially when that kind of carelessness brings so many of us down with the vomiting bug, norovirus – aka Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

So our suggestion is to turn it around – “if you can’t join them, beat them.”

Reverse psychology

Because frankly, there’s no way we’re going to risk our health out of aversion to a little soap and water. Not if it means stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea – where’s the sense in that?

And it makes least sense of all when we go out for a meal.

A special moment, special food, special friends – suddenly cut short by the awful vomiting bug.

Except it’s our fault, isn’t it?

Grubby paws

When was the last time we washed our hands before we sat down? And all that yuck on them from the loo two hours ago? Small wonder that our tummies go heave-ho as the first mouthfuls go down.

Nicely contaminated by our grubby fingers – they don’t look it, but they are – covered in norovirus or salmonella, too small to see so we kid ourselves that they’re clean anyway.

Next stop, A&E to have our stomachs pumped out.

Or not.

Blame the restaurant

Because no restaurant wants a bad rep for food poisoning when the real cause is so often customers with dirty hands.

So if you can’t join them, beat them, make a ritual out of it – a special hand washing ceremony before anybody eats.

Far-fetched?

Not a bit of it. In some restaurants, it’s already the practice to provide finger bowls – a ritual by themselves. So the idea of washing your hands at table is not so foreign.

And though it’s unusual, they’re not so crazy in popular restaurants either – nobody minds the focus on hygiene, it’s just unexpected.

Which leaves plenty of scope to take it a lot further – if nothing else, people will like it for the novelty.

And though it’s really a serious thing, you can even make it fun. (Thanks again, Northampton General Hospital!)

Halfway there already

On some airlines already, a sealed courtesy-wipe is provided to do hands and face with a meal. Biz-class and above do the same with hot towels.

And in the more exotic Turkish restaurants, part of the whole character is a huge copper basin with hot water brought to the table – and a copper jug to pour water over guests’ hands in a welcoming ritual.

Add scented soap and complimentary towels, and you have a whole hygiene procedure. A restaurant with unique, memorable character too.

Seems other countries have a better take on hygiene than we do. Go to Malaysia, and you’ve got to try “street food” – real, intricate, restaurant quality meals served out in the open, at the roadside.

Scrumptious yes, with your crockery and cutlery brought straight to your table in a basin of boiling water. Haul out your handy tube of gel that you carry always, and your hands are just as safe and sterilised.

A new ritual

Which is why we’re suggesting that a ritual is the thing. We’re already halfway there with the ritual of the phone. Look around you next time you’re out. Everyone on other tables always starts with Facebook or Twitter or something.

OK, so do the same with the gel. Haul it out, pass it round. Make it a feature of being out together. Everyone will know it’s good and hygienic, so there won’t be many refusals.

And if anybody asks why, simply say that nobody’s going to catch Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease if you can help it – not on your watch.

Which is why you do it at home too. These days, folks tend to sit round the TV more than the dinner table. But it’s the easiest thing in the world to pass the gel around.

Habit forming

Before you know it, a quick squidge before eating becomes everyone’s habit – and Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease becomes a rarity more than the norm.

Easy-peasy, huh?

Didn’t know staying healthy could be so simple?

Sure beats being ill when you don’t have to be.

Washing up by hand is like doing it in a sewer

Disagreeing woman
Just because a thing looks clean doesn’t mean it is – or that it’s germ-free either

Shocking?

But unfortunately, all too true.

Because you know that cloth or scourer you keep in the sink to scrub the grime off?

It probably has more germs on it than a stack of toilets – 200,000 of them to be exact. The same capacity as a small city sewer.

Germs, germs, germs

And you know why?

Because all it does is scrape food scraps away. Not disinfect or anything.

And unless you wash it out thoroughly with every use – then dry it completely in the microwave – it becomes a fast and continuous breeding place for germs.

Warm, moist, rich in organic nutrients – rinsing food away doesn’t get rid of the microscopic fragments germs feed on – they grow and multiply with every wash, transferring onto everything they touch.

The water you’re using doesn’t help either.

You put the plug in, and the water, squeeze some liquid – and think you’re handling it.

Germ soup

Uh huh. Putting all your crockery and cutlery through the same germ bath, more like.

Unless you wash under running water, which is wasteful – and doesn’t give the detergent opportunity to act.

Rinsing doesn’t help much either. That stream of water is hardly strong enough to prise the germs off. Even if the water’s hot. Because hot enough to kill gems would be hotter than your hands could stand. And anyway, at microscopic level there’s plenty of rough surfaces to hang onto.

Then there’s wiping up afterwards.

Another nightmare.

It might feel right, but that dish towel also transfers germs evenly over everything you wash. And though your dishes look clean, the average germ can probably last on there for up to a week or more.

Norovirus, campylobacter, salmonella, e. coli. Any one of them enough to make you feel very ill – or even put you in hospital.

Far from saving time and water – or being as hygienic as you hoped

Dishwasher efficiency

And all avoidable if you use the dishwasher.

For a start, the water is super-hot to soften food scraps, so the sprayers can blast them away. Way more efficient than that yucky scourer.

The water is constantly changed too – with several rinses and washes. That soup of germs never gets a chance to develop.

There’s less water involved as well. It needs several gallons to fill a kitchen sink – around 6,000 gallons a year on average. But you look – a dishwasher cycles water out of that small tray at the bottom, there’s very little wastage.

Oh, and drying?

Everything sits and air dries – no contamination with that germ-spreading dish cloth. What could be easier?

The germ-go-round

But it’s not just hand washing dishes that spreads germs around. It’s other cleaning chores too.

Because we’re used to scrubbing stuff away, we think that visually clean is often good enough. It looks OK, therefore it is.

If we get worried, we might bung in a disinfectant – but even then, our procedure is still the same. We wipe and scrub until we think it looks right – and that’s it.

But disinfectants can only work if they have enough contact time – and if they’re concentrated enough to do the necessary. Viruses and bacteria are hardened survivors – a quick wipe and a rinse is seldom enough. (Tweet this) And who can live with the sharp lung-piercing smell of ammonia or bleach?

OK, so we have a go at all the surfaces we can think of – worktops, tables, counters, the floor. And again, we reckon that’s it.

Only half the job though, if you think about it. Especially if it’s a food-prep area.

What about under things, or behind them, or stuff that dribbles down where it shouldn’t?

What about the walls or the ceiling? When were they last cleaned? And don’t forget, hot air rises. What sort of gunk could be up there from months of cooking or other activities, waiting to infect something?

Come to think of it, what about the air itself – often 80% of the room space or more?

If it was laden with dust, you’d see it at once – but germs are so small they’re invisible. And they’re there alright, floating around in their billions. We know all about them too – the sore throat and more that happens when we breathe some of them in.

Machine sterilising

Yup, you’re right. Like washing up, hand cleaning doesn’t get rid of germs either. But can you imagine the drama some kind of room washing machine might create?

Which is why there’s a Hypersteriliser.  A wheelie-bin sized machine that sterilises rooms with an ultra-fine mist of hydrogen peroxide gas plasma – ionised so it reaches everywhere by static electric charge – destroying all viruses and bacteria in around 40 minutes.

That easy, and that simple. Which means it’s probably time for coffee.

And anyway, who the heck wants to live in a sewer?

 

 

Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease strikes again

Hazmat researcher
It could make you hurl, or it could kill you – not worth the risk of not washing your hands

Another cruise ship?

A holiday Boeing crammed with used air-sick bags?

Unkindest of all, this time it’s the Royal Navy – 70 of our finest youngsters struck down with norovirus at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall. Been going for ten days too, difficult to get rid off.

Which means it’s serious. Because when the Navy deal with medical issues, they do it properly. Isolate the victims, blitz their quarters with disinfectant, restrict all contact.

The Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease

But that’s norovirus for you. Or the vomiting winter bug, whatever you want to call it.

More accurately, the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

Because that’s the biggest cause. And the surest way it spreads. From unwashed hands.

Highly contagious and at home on the perfect environment of our slightly moist hands at a pleasant 37 degrees Celsius – a guaranteed outbreak every time, simply because our personal hygiene is dangerously slapdash.

Oh yes, it is.

A staggering percentage of us NEVER wash our hands after going to the loo. 68% of men, 40% of women.

Even more shocking, NINETY-FIVE PERCENT of us don’t wash our hands properly. A six second rinse under the tap and we reckon we’re done.

Actually worse than useless.

Because though we let germs thrive on our hands by not washing them, WET hands amplify the risk. And there’s nothing like a pair of warm, wet hands for germs to increase and multiply.

Self-destruct reflex?

What’s wrong with us,? Do we have a death wish?

It’s not just that we don’t wash our hands. We then go right ahead and use those same hands to eat with. Transferring the germs onto our food – and then deliberately ingesting it.

Not just norovirus either. It could be whatever our hands have come in contact with. Salmonella, campylobacter, c. difficile, e. coli – any one of which could kill us for our carelessness.

Or if not kill, be very unpleasant. A nasty 6 hours in the barf-room, cramps like you can’t believe, the never-ending runs, and headache from dehydration. Two or three days of the end of the world with your bum on fire all the time.

And we actually WANT this?

We already half-know that norovirus is behind around 50% of all tummy bugs – and we still don’t wash our hands.

We’re even in denial – a lot of the time blaming the cause of our sudden sickness on something else. Exactly why we call it the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

Everyday risk-takers

Take any visit to a restaurant – posh nosh or fast food, it makes no difference.

Just to stay open any of those places has to satisfy pretty strict hygiene laws. They get inspected too. Anything wrong and the place gets shut down.

Which means that in most food places, all of the professionals running it are unlikely to take chances. The kitchen will be meticulously clean and the staff will wash their hands regularly. So will the serving staff, with the maître d’ watching them like a hawk.

Quite possibly the place is sterilised every night too – with one of those Hypersteriliser jobbies. Every day when they open for business, it’s totally germ-free. No viruses, no bacteria, nothing.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

It’s the diners who don’t wash their hands. The eaters.

Straight in off the street and sitting down at the table with never a thought of hygiene.

With hands that maybe haven’t been washed for hours. Strap-hanging in the tube, pawing escalator hand-rails, in and out of the loo, shaking hands with others doing exactly the same thing.

Which means it isn’t necessarily the pâté de foie gras that’s off. It’s the germs from the breadstick clutched by the grubby paw of the big deal who rocked up by taxi and demanded the table with the best view.

Self-infected – with Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease. How stupid is that? (Tweet this)

The blame game

And then of course, it’s bad-mouthing the restaurant which had nothing to do with it. One accusing finger pointing – and another three pointing back.

But it could be any of us. Because when was the last time you washed your hands in a restaurant before eating? And in a fast food joint?

No, it’s not a joke. In fact chowing down a take-away burger is even more of a risk, because what else are you touching while you do it?

Over-reacting? Don’t count on it.

These days if you come down with anything serious, they’ll bung you on antibiotics.

Only, in case you haven’t heard, the Docs are getting shy of doing that because the bugs have developed resistance – they don’t work any more.

Back to the Dark Ages before antibiotics were invented. All you need is for your norovirus to develop complications, and you’re on a one-way ticket to oblivion.

Life and death

Not worth it for a little soap and water, hey?

Or some of that disinfecting gel, if you can’t get to a bathroom.

Nobody’s going to laugh if you sit at the table and treat your hands. And it works better than those hot towels the posh places offer – safer too.

Your choice.

It might seem like nothing, but it’s actually life and death.

Size does matter – how ANY germ can zap you

Doctor with arms folded
Our biggest threats are smaller than we can imagine

Germs are everywhere, right?

In the earth, in water, the air we breathe, on surfaces, in stuff we eat – everywhere to the limits of the biosphere, up to 30,000 feet and beyond.

Inside our bodies too – good germs and bad germs. All in balance, as long as we’re careful.

Or as long as we don’t pick up a bug from outside. A bacteria, a virus – there’s plenty of pathogens out there to cause trouble.

Now here’s a thing.

It’s all in the air

Some germs we catch from breathing, some from food we eat, and some from contact with other people who have an infection.

But all of the time, all of these germs spread by being airborne.

Now before the whole of the BMA comes down on us like a ton of bricks for that statement, let’s offer some supporting evidence.

Cast your mind back to the second week of April, and chances are it was all over your car. It even triggered a widespread health warning from both the Met Office and Defra.

Red dust from the Sahara Desert. Carried here by storms from 2,000 miles away. A yucky mess and a run to the car wash. And exactly why all germs spread by being airborne.

It’s easy to see why. The grain size of a typical sand particle from the Sahara is about 0.06 to 0.5 mm. No problem to the average desert wind at 25 mph – and a total breeze for a sandstorm.

Can’t see us for dust

Uh huh.

0.06 to 0.5 mm. 2,000 miles.

Now if you will, to your microscopes please.

Because 0.5 mm in the world of viruses and bacteria is a monstrous giant – 500 microns.

A human hair by comparison might be only 60 microns – and an Ebola virus over 1,000 times smaller at 0.08 microns, the same size as our winter vomiting favourite, norovirus – which coincidentally in the early stages, presents similar symptoms.

Oops!

It’s worth remembering that the benchmark efficiency measure for the HEPA filters used in the air supply to hospital operating theatres is 0.3 microns.

Which means if Ebola or norovirus cells were floating around, there’s nothing there to stop them getting through.

Aha, right! Neither of these two is airborne in transmission – infection is by direct contact. No immediate problem.

But spread from one place to another? Airborne always!

Smaller travels further

Because if Sahara dust can travel 2,000 miles and get dumped on your car, what about germs that are less than 2% smaller?

Which means, if the winds blow in the right direction, that Ebola could already be here. Floating around, waiting for an opportunity. Norovirus certainly is.

And you’ve seen yourself how fine dust floats even in still air, seemingly unaffected by gravity. At 1,000 times smaller, germs like norovirus or Ebola might never settle – the air around them is too dense for gravity to work.

OK, so here comes a human body, pushing through the air, walking down the street. Whatever germs there are, catch and stick like always – on skin, clothing everywhere.

Single germ cells on the skin’s acid mantle, not a problem. Our immune systems are too rugged, too smart.

Catching germs

But winds blow and air wafts – people, cars and animals pass through it, heating systems vent into it. Those germs don’t stay in one place, they move around – fetch up on other surfaces – walls, doors, through windows, wherever.

And a human hand, wiping across one of these in a grab for a door handle, might scrape 10 or 20 together in a ridge that stays sticking to a finger. Next thing, like we always do 2,000 – 3,000 times a day, that finger wipes an eye, wiggling round to remove street dust.

So what’s the prognosis, Doc?

Infection alert

20 Ebola germ cells clumped together on the moist tissue round the eye – will there be an infection or not? (Tweet this) And if there is, can you imagine the hoo-hah about how it happened?

You can’t see germs. You can’t take chances either. Which is exactly why hospitals are starting to use the Hypersteriliser.

Because the Hypersteriliser’s super-fine mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide takes out ALL viruses and bacteria to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6. Hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species – and even ozone – rip them apart by oxidising them. No Ebola, no norovirus, no nothing.

Uh huh, again. An awkward fact of life that even applies to germs.

That size DOESN’T matter – when you’re dead.

Delete all germs, Y/N? Or send to cloud?

Woman at keyboard
Ew! Delete all germs! There’s more on your keyboard than there are in the loo!

OK, they got you.

You read a piece in the paper about germs on your desk and scared yourself to death.

Then you took a look at your computer keyboard and called your office cleaning service.

Yes, they do sanitising of IT equipment, including screens and keyboards. Oh, and don’t you want your phones done too? Staff are on the line all the time and need protection.

A big cleaning job

You look at them, at their workstations – in those space-maximising groups of four, clustered together. Lots of work to be done, everyone with double screens, always on the go.

Good on you, you’ve earned a coffee – and the specialist team is coming tomorrow. Delete all germs, yeah!

Wow, but they are impressive. Air blasters that squidge out dust and dirt – all those bits of biscuit that dropped down between the keys. And this virucidal liquid stuff that lifts the gunge of your keys so they look like new when you thought the letters were fading. Oh, and the wipes for screen, yeah!

Twenty minutes, all done.

You watch as the team goes round the rest of the office. Everyone’s raving at their shiny new-look keyboards. You nod to yourself.

It’s not over till it’s over

Then you notice something on the desk behind your screen. A dust bunny. No worries, the usual cleaning team will take care of that when they come in this evening.

Or not.

Difficult to get to, behind all those screens clustered together. Worried about unplugging something too. So their best is thrust with a feather duster, or a quick go-round with the vacuum cleaner hose.

Delete all germs? Well, only sort of.

Cough, cough, splutter.

Dust bunnies in the air – bits of biscuit from the blow-out sessions too.

So just how clean is your office really?

Sure it looks OK, but how safe is it from germs?

You sit there and think about what could be under the desk. Lurking in the cables snarled together where the CPUs are. No vacuuming there either – don’t want to disturb the connections.

Behind the scenes

And what about behind the photo copier? Or the great triple-whammy broadband server up against the pillar? Won’t the air-con circulate all those dust bunnies and biscuit bits? Plus the cough-sneezes from you and everybody else?

It’s not just your desk that’s full of germs – it’s the whole office. (Tweet this)

But if somebody was going to clean and disinfect that lot properly, they’d be wiping and scrubbing all day. And still the air-con would be circulating stuff – round and round in a great invisible cloud.

Aargh!

Surely there’s something that can handle taking the germs out without making it a major mission, or ponging the place up with chlorine bleach?

Fortunately, there is.

Safe from germs

It’s called a Hypersteriliser and it sterilises the whole place completely – no germs no nothing, safe.

You still need the cleaning team, because the machine doesn’t actually clean off dirt.

What it does do is mist the place up with ionised hydrogen peroxide – oxidising viruses and bacteria on contact like microscopic explosions, physically ripping their cells apart.

The stuff gets everywhere too, because the ionising charges the mist particles so they race away, trying to escape each other. Charged with energy, they push and shove – under, behind and deep into any cracks – no germ can escape them.

Forty minutes is all it needs – give or take an oz, depending on room size.

Delete all germs, yes! And way quicker than a whole team of cleaners could ever achieve. (Tweet this)

And all you do is wheel it into place, check it’s juiced up and ready to go, hit the button and get out of there – job done.

So, are you going to accept just the clean keyboard – or do want to hit the whole place?

Breathe deep and think. Your colleagues are depending on this too.

Like, if you don’t do anything, how many more sickies are you going to pull this year?

How to make 95% of your illnesses go away

Girl showing off hands
Wash your hands regularly and you
need never go to hospital again

A few ground rules.

Let’s not include upsets caused by your mind. No romantic distresses, job apprehensions, exam nerves or stress-related angst.

We’re talking genuine sicknesses here – like colds, flu or worse. Or tummy bugs that might start with diarrhoea and get nasty from there.

Yeah, you got gut ache

All the way from mild discomfort to hospital stuff – including monsters like typhoid. Pretty well anything you can eat or touch.

Are you ready?

Wash your hands.

That’s it. Just, wash your hands.

Ah, but you’ve got to do it properly. Because though all of us claim we wash our hands, 95% of us don’t do it properly, or even at all.

Don’t believe it?

Researchers at Michigan State University hid in bathrooms and recorded physical evidence. Seems most of us waggle our hands under the tap and that’s it.

Ah, but that’s Yanks, you say. We know better here.

Oh yeah? According to a recent survey right here in UK, 62% of men and 40% of women admitted that they didn’t even bother.

Uh huh. So that’s a whole bunch of us waltzing round with poo and wee on our hands.

You ready for the next yucky? We’re not just waltzing around, but we’re touching our faces 2,000 – 3,000 times a day. Transferring invisible gunk to our eyes, mouth and nose – exactly the same passages germs use to get in – over and over, like we WANT to catch a bug.

Go away, bugs!

Which makes it kind of unsurprising when we do. We’re so unhygienic we DESERVE to come down with something – at least norovirus or one of those other nasties that gives us the runs.

Worse than that, we use those same yucky hands to eat. Sure, they don’t look yucky, but those billions of viruses and bacteria living on there are so small, how the hell would we know?

OK, so you’re ambitious and pushing your career, so busy you often eat at your desk – burger and chips while you check your business pitches – multi-tasking so your bosses love you.

You got it – those same greasy fingers all over your keyboard and phone.

And when was the last time you wiped either of them down – last week, last month, last year? So that’s burger and chips on top of the chicken fajitas from yesterday, and the egg salad mayonnaise on wholewheat from the day before.

No wonder experts reckon you’ve got upwards of 10 million disease-causing bacteria living there – that place is a zoo!

Run to the Doc

So who’s fault is it if one of these bugs riding round on your hands decides to hit you with an infection? You and the other 65 million people living in bonny UK – all gumming up the works to see your GP, or running to A&E with your tummy bug because you can’t get an appointment?

And we have the nerve to say that our NHS services can’t cope!

With not even a guilty conscience that all we have to do is use a little soap and water after the loo and before eating to make all those ailments go away. Aren’t we heartily ashamed of ourselves?

We should be. So to pull our thinking straight about something we all know, here’s a polite hand-washing reminder from America’s health heavyweights, the Centers for Disease Control – the same people who safeguard the world against Ebola, malaria, TB, diabetes and all the other more serious challenges or doctors are fighting with every day.

Easy, huh?

Just wash your hands and everything goes away. (Tweet this)

No probs

You don’t have to buy Imodium because your tummy’s fine. Or get the Doc to check your chest because your lungs are clear. Or have your appendix removed because it’s fine.

Super-boring, nothing to talk about, and you should live to be a hundred.

Not allergic to soap are you? So use a sanitising gel. Carry one with you always, because you can’t always get to a bathroom.

Mind how you go though, clean hands can’t protect you from accidents.