Tag Archives: dirty hands

Sick on holiday: fake claim or genuine, why it’s usually your fault

Fake travel sickness
Yes, we can be unlucky – but with food poisoning we’re most of us red-handed

Fake claims are in the news lately.

Food poisoning, mostly.

Massive demands that backfire as travel firms put up a fight. Big penalties too.

£25K for a woman in Wales.

An upcoming dispute already topping £52K for a family in Liverpool.

Not the holiday bonanza anyone was hoping for. And bad for all of us, fake claims like these are on the rise.

Yeah well, with in-your-face “ambulance-chasers” tempting us to make get-rich-quick claims right there on our sun-loungers, we ought to expect hotels and travel companies to play hardball.

Sure, being ill on holiday is the pits and feels like the end of the world. But if it’s really genuine and LOOKS LIKE IT, as long as we get medical help and advise our accommodation people immediately, there should be no problem.

Fake claim, false blame

It is after all, not easy to fake high temperature, body sweats, continuous vomiting and diarrhoea.

That said though, there’s still the awkward reality that it’s most likely our own fault.

Why?

Because food poisoning is basically all about contamination. We ingest germs with whatever we eat, our bodies react, we get sick.

And our own hands – which go everywhere and do everything – are the most contaminated of all.

Not that we want to accept that.

When food poisoning strikes, we usually blame (or our solicitors do):

  • Kitchen staff not washing THEIR hands in preparing food
  • Dirty kitchen utensils
  • Mix-ups of raw and cooked meat
  • Food prepared in a dirty environment
  • Hazardous chemicals (like cleaning agents) contaminating food
Hygiene from hell

But we’re not so goody-goody ourselves. Even when we’re at home, our hygiene record is scary.

On holiday, it’s even worse.

Because, think about it – we’re out and about, doing stuff. Who wants to stop and wash hands?

On the go all the time, we’re trying to maximise our experience. In a few days, we’ll have to fly home again.

So we’re up at sparrow’s tweet and never let up. Rushing here, cruising there – no chance to even think of washing hands. And often with nowhere to do so, even if we wanted to.

Uh huh.

So whatever it is, lunch or dinner, there’s often a whole day in front of sitting down at table. And our hands have touched everything imaginable on the way.

Down the hatch – oooh!

And guess what?

Few of us are in the 12% of hand washers, so we just sit there and scoff.

And because it’s holiday, odds are likely that we’re eating straight with our hands.

Burgers, pizza, wraps, sandwiches, fish and chips, kebabs, ice creams – they’re all feelgood holiday favourites we can’t get enough of.

So it’s down the hatch and licking our fingers, with nary a thought about clean anything – unless our hands are VISIBLY dirty. Fake confidence.

Four hours later – ooh, I don’t feel so good.

Now whatever it is kicks in and ruins the holiday.

Norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter, e.coli, c.difficile – they all give us the runs and have us spewing our guts out.

But don’t worry. That nice man at the poolside said just get a chemist’s receipt for Imodium and you can claim it all back – EasyJet, care hire, the hotel, everything.

Reputation management

Yeah, right.

One finger pointing, three others pointing back.

For a hotel or restaurant to fall down on hygiene is bad news – even in darkest Peru.

There’s reputation at stake, a licence to lose, a whole livelihood to go down the tubes.

Which means sure, slip-ups happen. But they’re not the norm.

Unless we’ve lucked onto a place teeming with cockroaches and unlikely to pass ANY inspection short of a shutdown, it’s usually our own fault.

Which is dumb when you think about it, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to carry antibacterial wipes or gel. In our handbag or pocket, it goes where we go – our hands can always be safe from germs.

Plus before  we start pointing fingers, most food places are pretty strict about their own standards of hygiene. Tourists bring money, so you can bet everything that can be cleaned will be. Wiped down with bleach, swept, polished and vacuumed within an inch of its life.

In some places, even clobbered with hydrogen peroxide mist to take out ALL the germs. No chance we can fake our way out of that.

Walk in there and the whole place is sterilised. Any hint of food poisoning and they’d probably string us up.

OK, we’re getting itchy feet. Already packed for next week. Passports and boarding passes at the ready.

Got the hand wipes and the gel?

No need to fake anything, just have a good time.

Business reputations at risk in the wrong hands

Reputations at risk - soiled businesswoman
You do your best to keep up your reputation – but it’s got customer paw prints all over it – and then?

Even strong reputations are flimsy.

One negative happening, and the whole pack of cards comes tumbling down.

Everybody follows the rules, does everything right – then some dumbo comes along and ruins everything.

Usually the one person nobody can control.

Because of the myth that they’re always right.

Only this time they’re as wrong as it’s possible to be.

That all-powerful, untouchable king of business – the customer.

The one person who can shoot reputations to pieces better than anybody.

How?

The customer is always… dangerous

With dirty hands.

By leaving ugly paw prints all over everything.

Grab, fumble, tarnish – another reputation shot.

Greasy fingerprints on crystal glassware. Smears on polished bodywork. Dark stains on pristine linen.

And the ones you can’t see. Germs all over menus, cutlery and serving dishes – a food poisoning nightmare.

Next thing, it’s them – or other customers – complaining of stomach cramps, running to the loo, and barfing all over the carpet before they get there.

Nothing to do with you. It’s them.

The germs on their fingers are theirs – brought in after touching goodness knows what. Invisible, but dicey just the same. Possibly even deadly.

Always innocent – gets away clean

But guess who takes the hit?

Never them, the customer is king. Or more accurately in the food business, the customer is god.

So, taken ill after a night out – it can only be the restaurant. Dodgy ingredients, improperly prepared, sloppy personnel hygiene, dirty utensils – nobody has a leg to stand on. Solicitor on speed dial.

Yeah, right.

One finger accusing, three fingers pointing back.

Lost licence, closure, law suits, bank withdrawal, business collapse, HUGE money losses. And all because Fred Nurk didn’t wash his hands before eating. What kind of defence do you have against that?

And how many OTHER customers represent the same kind of risk?

The dirty truth

Pretty well all of them when you start looking.

Not good odds – ask the people who know.

They’re supposed to be on the ball, but how many actuaries would accept any eatery’s risk if they knew 88% of customers NEVER wash their hands before eating? Lots of rules for businesses to follow, none for customers. Where’s the justice?

And those are just the day-to-day instances – with nobody thinking about anything.

Then there’s the FAKE claims. The ones where the customer deliberately tries it on. Take a look at your newspaper – first Crete  – and now Turkey. The thin end of the wedge.

So how long will it be before it gets tried here at home? And how many reputations have gone down the tubes because some smart operators have got away with it already?

Reputations shot

Yeah, so Reputational Protection No 1.

Have your serving staff go round every table before handing out menus. Make a ceremony of it if necessary, but have them politely but firmly squirt antibacterial gel into the hands of everyone present.

Now at least your menus should be safe. And unless they go they go to the loo mid-meal, your customers should be safe from themselves for the evening.

Follow that up with Reputational Protection No 2.

Sterilise the whole place as often as possible – at least every night after closing. Which means mist it up with ionised hydrogen peroxide, so all viruses and bacteria are neutralised. No germs to catch, no tummy upsets to take away.

Do it. There’s too many business reputations already in the wrong hands – including yours. So it’s worth every penny to take it away from them and regain control for yourself.

Like we said, even strong reputations are fragile things.

No point running risks with them when you don’t have to.

Picture Copyright: polygraphus / 123RF Stock Photo and auremar 123RF Stock Photo

One hint of health risk, and your whole business reputation nose dives

Nose dive crash
Taking chances – when the wrong germ comes along, your whole world goes for a loop

One germ is all it takes. One teeny microbe less than 0.002 microns across – and there goes your reputation.

E.coli is it?

A customer ate something that disagreed. Food poisoning headlines in the local press. All over TV and Facebook. Wisecracks on Twitter making it worse.

A reputation nightmare.

OK, so things happen. Somebody makes a mistake and the whole organisation pays for it.

Or not.

Because e.coli is a germ you can catch anywhere. Off a doorknob or a product display. Off the handle of a customer basket. From a handshake with sales staff. Out of the air. Anywhere.

Same scenario with most germs. From mild colds and tummy bugs to life-threatening illnesses.

Picked up on contact, or breathed in.

The blame game

So are you unlucky – or genuinely negligent?

Dirty hands are a cause, most of the time. They look clean but they’re not – at least not since after breakfast. And hands touch everything, including mouth and nose – the germs’ way in to reputational mayhem.

The customer’s hands, or staff’s?

With reputations on the line, it’s unwise to point fingers.

Most people don’t wash their hands from one moment to the next. Especially breezing in off the street. But you can’t accuse them, even if their hands are crawling. 0.02 microns is impossibly small to see, even if there are millions of them. So it’s you who’s accused – of insults.

On the staff side of course, you can see it coming.

Take precautions and be ready, before anything happens.

Minimise the risk

Like tighten up on staff hygiene. When hands are washed, how thoroughly, and how often. When latex gloves get used. How merchandise is cleaned and presented. Nannying detail yes, but your reputation depends on it.

Likewise, how your whole place is cleaned.

Not just a lick and a promise, but properly sterilised. If there’s no germs anywhere, you know the e.coli must be the customer’s.

And properly doesn’t mean bleach. The smell alone will drive your reputation away all by itself.

Besides, how’s bleach going to reach all the places that germs are more likely to lurk? In dark corners, away from the usually scrubbed counters and work surfaces? Or in the air itself?

No, no – to get rid of germs, you’ve got to get serious. Just like your reputation is serious  – and e.coli makes bad PR.

So it’s sterilise or nothing – again, your reputation depends on it.

No germs on anything anyone might touch – staff or customers. Including all the things nobody ever thinks about but uses all the time. Like self-service touchscreens and lift call buttons.

Bring on the tiger

Time to think ionised hydrogen peroxide.

And a nifty all-automatic machine – the Hypersteriliser.

It’s loaded with a mild 6% solution of hydrogen peroxide – the same germ-killer stuff you can get in Boots as antiseptic. And the same stuff our own bodies naturally produce to fight infections from cuts or scratches.

Ah, but press the button – and you waken the sleeping tiger.

IONISED, see. Which mists the hydrogen peroxide into a dry superfine spray – and transforms it from a gas vapour into a plasma.

Yup, you’ve got yourself a tiger. Because now that mild 6% solution releases a slew of other antimicrobials – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet – every one, a germ predator.

Plus the ionising forces the tiger out of its lair and actively on the hunt. Forced apart electrostatically to disperse aggressively in all directions. Fiercely pouncing oppositely-charged bacteria and viruses -and clawing them to shreds by oxidising them.

Not kind. But think of it this way. It gives germs the same deadly treatment they give you. Or more appropriately, your reputation.

Give it 40 minutes or so, depending on room size – and the whole place is sterile. No germs anywhere. In the air, on any surface, in any tight inaccessible places, or in any cracks, crevices and remote corners.

OK, so with the whole place germ-free, any e.coli floating around has got to be the customer’s.

But you know how it goes, you get the blame anyway. Benefit of the doubt and all that – the customer is always right.

Roar of approval

Uh huh, so your final play is to protect the customer from herself.

Before she has a chance to touch anything, offer her antibacterial wipes or gel – free with your compliments.

Well it’s your reputation, so what’s she going to think – free hand wipes AND the whole place sterilised for HER health and security?

Wow! Worth paying a bit extra to shop there, don’t you think?

And how’s it going to look for you when she climbs on Instagram and Snapchat to her friends?

Like we say, it’s your reputation. And with the tiger on your side, you’re playing for keeps.

Picture Copyright: digidreamgrafix / 123RF Stock Photo

If dirty hands don’t kill you – let antibiotics do it

Self-strangling woman
Sloppy hygiene and antibiotics – are we trying to commit suicide?

Don’t kid yourself, they’re both just as deadly – dirty hands AND antibiotics.

Except we trust both, don’t we?

Dirty hands because they don’t LOOK dirty. Antibiotics because – wow! they’re miracle drugs that cure everything.

Killing ourselves

Yeah, right. Suicide either way.

Which is why you’re lying on the floor, looking very dead.

And at the rate we’re going, you’ll soon have lots of company. With many more sick and dying, because of antibiotics.

Dirty hands we can understand, right?

We get germs on them, we swallow the germs – next stop A&E, clamouring for antibiotics.

But antibiotics, what do we know about them?

Pretty well zip – except what our expectations tell us.

Yeah, and just maybe we remember that antibiotics work by killing bacteria.

We’ve got bad bacteria in our bodies, we take antibiotics, the bad bacteria die, job done.

As if.

Our real life force

Truth is that we are all MADE OF bacteria – they outnumber our human body cells 10 to 1. And down in our gut, where most of them live, there’s over 100 trillion of them.

Don’t worry, they’re supposed to be there. They’re like the software that drives our bodies. The OS that digests food for us, produces proteins and regulates our immune system. Supported by millions and millions of apps – this one to control hunger, this one to generate fear, this one to make us bold and brave, this one to help us heal from burns.

Lots and lots of different types, plenty of some, scarce with others – but all living and working in harmony, a natural balance that keeps us active, healthy and thriving.

So now we chuck an antibiotic in there – broad-base amoxicillin or something, to be sure of clobbering the bad guys.

Hydrogen bomb

Spot the mistake. A widely targeting bacteria killer – in a densely packed community of bacteria. A bit like letting loose with a hydrogen bomb. Sure, it takes down the bad guys – and whole families of good guys too, collateral damage.

Oops.

Too bad a few minority clans were wiped out altogether. No more protection from asthma or oesophageal reflux.

Yeah, the other guys will grow back, maybe with a few scars. Maybe with an arm or leg missing, but they’ll be OK. Not the minorities though, they’ve gone for good. Which means the body is not as strong as it was. Part of its defences are missing.

And this happens EVERY TIME we swallow an antibiotic.

Bully for us, we got rid of the sinusitis – we carry on, less able than we were. And because we strong-arm the Doc for antibiotics every time we feel sick, we’re probably doing this once a year or more.

Taking antibiotics for a cure, but making us MORE likely to get sick, both at the same time.

Like we said, we know zip.

Because one thing antibiotics do to surviving bacteria is make them produce more ghrelin.

Never heard of it?

You will. It’s a hormone that says EAT MORE.

More accurately, eat more compulsively.

Uncontrolled gluttony

Eat more, extract more nutrients, you’re not finished, go for the fattening stuff – fast foods, sweets, cakes, sugary drinks, more, more, more!

Oops again. Your switch off eating control is broken. You’re going to get fat and you can’t stop yourself. Size 16, size 18, who cares?

My body, my choice, you say to yourself – not recognising it’s a sickness. Thank you, antibiotics – except none of us make the connection. So next time around, we ask for antibiotics again.

Recognise it now? The obesity trigger. Passport to high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer, infertility, back pain, skin infections, ulcers and gallstones.

It gets worse.

Fatter every day

Because we don’t just get antibiotics whenever we’re sick. We chow them down every day. They’re in everything we eat. Because for more than half a century – when antibiotics were first discovered – they’ve been used to bulk up animals for food – growth promoters that fatten them up in half the time. Plant crops too – more productive in half the time.

Feed the world – Bob Geldof is turning cartwheels.

Yup, everything we eat. Little by little, more antibiotics every day – exactly the way that farm animals get them. Bigger, better, fatter – and nobody’s twigged it yet, though every farmer knows it. It’s why we’ve all got heavier in the last twenty years, why two-thirds of us will be overweight or obese by 2025.

Which brings us back to dirty hands. Why most of the time we probably got sick in the first place. We don’t see the germs, so we don’t know we’re at risk. For instance, thanks to mobile phones, around 28% of us even have poo on our hands.

Wash hands and the problem goes away.

Except we’re more vulnerable than we were before, remember?

Every time an antibiotic bomb hits, we lose a few more billion gut bacteria. At least one prescription, maybe three times a year. And every meal too – breakfast, lunch, supper.

EVERY DAY FOR HALF A CENTURY.

Time to tighten our defences

So we’re way weaker than we ever were. More likely to get sick, less likely to recover. More under threat than ever. Bigger targets – literally – for germs.

Which means clean hands are good – but rapidly becoming not enough.

Time to sterilise our surroundings as well. Eliminate germs from our workplace – wipe them out with hydrogen peroxide mist. Safe, secure – at last.

Oh yeah, and one other thing.

Live longer, stay off antibiotics.

Picture Copyright: lenanet / 123RF Stock Photo

Killer poison on hands – saved by Cornish pasty

Hungry miner
Thirteenth Century rescue from death – the crimped pastry edge of Cornish pasties was effective protection against arsenic poisoning

It’s a fatal choice to make.

Your lunch, or your life.

Because down in the dark of a Cornish tin mine, those hunger pangs could be the end of you. No chance of getting back topside to eat, your shift is all day. Time is money. Stay down till you drop.

Dirty and deadly

Hard work this, deadly too. Tin ore produces arsenic dust. Which of course gets everywhere – on your clothes, on your skin, in your hair. There’s no such thing as an OLD Cornish tin miner.

Pickaxe, shovel, crowbar – the blokes are all starving.

“Oggy, oggy, oggy!”

(Pasty, pasty, pasty – the real D-shaped Cornish jobs – potatoes, swedes, onions, chopped beef, salt and pepper – with thick pastry and a heavily crimped, curved edge.)

It’s the wives and sweethearts up top, ready with hot Cornish pasties. They lower them down and the smell drives you mad. The lads’ mouths pucker in the flickering lamplight.

“Oy, oy, oy!”

The answering yell rings off the rock face.

Yum, pasties.

But your hands are filthy as hell, already going yellow. Arsenic trioxide – deadly if you swallow it. Stomach troubles, prostate, all kinds of cancer.

Nowhere to wash though, down here underground. Except seepage down the one wall, deep yellow in the light of the candle. More arsenic in the groundwater, the deadliest wash ever.

Like your mates around you, you grab for the basket.

Heb grev. No problem, as they say in Cornwall.

Poison protection

The deeply crimped pastry edge down the side of the pasty allows you to snatch it up with poisoned fingers without touching the meaty middle.

High-tech Cornish cooking – Thirteenth Century style.

You eat your fill of the middle and throw the pastry crust away. It’s your gift to the Knockers – the little folk who live in the mine and make mischief if they’re forgotten – like a rock-fall on a man’s leg.

You get the message.

Eight hundred years ago we already knew that eating with dirty hands could be fatal. And our thanks to the Cornish pasty experts at Ginsters for bringing this to our attention.

Doesn’t look like we’ve learned though. Just about everything we count as a favourite is finger-food today – burgers, pizzas, pies, rolls, wraps, sandwiches, fish and chips.

Scoff any of that lot and you’re a shoo-in for norovirus – the Don’t Wash Hands Disease.

Four days of cramps, runs and upchucks – all self-inflicted because soap and water is not on the radar.

Well it’s not, is it?

The price of dirty hands

How many times a day do you wash your hands? C’mon now, don’t be shy. We’re all just as bad – thinking we’re safe, when we’re setting ourselves up for misery.

For instance:

Try that in old Cornwall and you’d be dead.

Because how many other fast foods are smart enough to have grab handles, so you can eat them with polluted paws and not come unstuck? Or are you going to tell us you sit at your iPad and actually eat with a knife and fork?

Yeah, pull the other one. We’re quick enough to point the finger and say “food poisoning” – when all the time we’re probably the victims of our own carelessness.

OK, norovirus is not arsenic – but it CAN kill. And there’s plenty of other nasties out there that can do the same.

Campylobacter for instance, next stop irritable bowel syndrome – and a life-time of embarrassing discomfort. Or salmonella, with high expectations of diabetes, arthritis, kidney failure and high blood pressure.

Yeah, enjoy your meal!

But if you’re not going to poison yourself, you might want scrub up first.

Picture Copyright: siberia / 123RF Stock Photo

Food poisoning for real, or customer trying it on?

Fingers crossed
Just because you can’t SEE germs, doesn’t mean our hands aren’t loaded with them

Not used to issues like this, are you?

It raises an uncomfortable question – not for you, for your customers.

Because right up front, how many of them wash their hands before they eat?

“Ew Factor” could cost you thousands

But you already know the answer – can probably say exactly how many guests get up from their table before food is served and go to the restroom.

Yeah, right. A handful maybe, depending on the size of your place. Certainly not everybody, your restroom’s not that big. And all those people moving around at once would upset the other diners – never mind your staff twisting through with hot plates.

Which means everybody else is straight in off the street and you don’t know where they’ve been. Or more to the point, where their hands have been.

OK, so put yourself in their shoes, what do you reckon?

Did they wash before leaving work? After their ride in the taxi/Underground? And if not, what were they doing before that? What did they touch?

Or to stop the pussy-footing, what’s on their fingers RIGHT NOW that could give them collywobbles if they swallowed it?

Collywobbles meaning norovirus, or some equally unpleasant bug spread by direct contact.

Poo on their fingers

Yeah, they call it the “winter vomiting bug” and other round-the-houses names  – but the elephant in the room is that it spreads from unwashed hands. And unwashed hands in a food business like yours is an unspeakable but major problem.

Not staff hands, CUSTOMER hands – because they’re the ones touching everything and actually going into mouths.

Sure, your own staff need to be careful too – but they know the odds. Poor hygiene, bad rep, nasty lawsuits, shut the business, no more job. Not worth the risk.

Not like your customers.

Yeah, sure – loyal to you, enthusiastic about the experience you offer, nice enough on the surface.

Except like most of us, they don’t take criticism – and certainly would never accept it’s THEIR dirty hands that made them ill, not something wrong with your food.

They’re customers, see? Never wrong. And probably in denial that their personal hygiene is ever less than perfect. Like, their hands don’t LOOK dirty, do they?

Push comes to shove, it’s likely they’ll win any court case, even though it’s probably their own fault.

How can we dare to say this?

Because when you look at the facts, our day-to-day hygiene is so bad, it’s a wonder we’re not ALL of us in hospital with dysentery or something worse.

So there you are, busting a gut, doing everything to make your food safe and your place spotless. And there’s Mr Money-Bags, all too ready to squawk at the slightest hiccup, let alone tummy-ache – sitting posh as you like, quite probably with poo on his hands.

Or just as likely, on the cash or credit card he’s going to shove at you at the end of the meal.

Food poisoning? Yeah, pull the other one.

Except there’s not a lot you can do is there? Certainly not diss your customers or lay blame on them. And there’s no way you can FORCE them to the restroom.

How to start winning

But you can get ahead of the game. Turn it round and make it work for you.

Remember the last time YOU went on a splurge? Hit some swanky restaurant or flew first class – swanning around like you owned the place, at least for one night?

OK, remember the hot towels? All terribly la-di-da, offered to you with white gloves and a pair of tongs – a courtesy to wipe your hands and face.

Right, so you pull the same stunt.

Only instead of hot towels, YOU offer YOUR guests individual sachets of antiseptic hand wipes. Mr Money-Bags is not going to refuse is he? Mrs Money-Bags will probably even open it for him. And your staff look like paragons of virtue – especially with a silver tray to collect the used wipes afterwards

Which means if either of them has poo on their hands, the problem has gone away. Food poisoning isn’t going to happen because you’ve removed the cause. And your customers think you’re a million dollars for being so thoughtful.

To ram it home, you pull the stunt even further. Sterilise the whole place so guests know you’re serious about offering a good experience and caring for their welfare.

After trade every night or before you open next morning, you mist the place up for an hour or so with ionised hydrogen peroxide. One button on the Hypersteriliser machine does the trick.

No more viruses or bacteria anywhere in the treated areas. Not on tables, chairs, glasses, cutlery, light fittings, anything – not even in the air around them. Safe, secure, sterilised for your protection.

Customers still trying it on?

We don’t think so. Not unless there really IS something off with your food.

But somehow, you’re not likely to let that happen.

 Picture Copyright: citalliance / 123RF Stock Photo

Contagious, infectious, why you’re gonna catch it

Unhappy woman in viral mask
They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere! And germs aren’t picky who they infect

What goes around, comes around, right? Which is why you’re gonna catch it.

Because we’re not all hermits.

We need to be with each other and share things – at work, at home, or out enjoying ourselves.

Get a life and keep it

Otherwise, avoiding bugs is easy – we stay in splendid isolation and talk to nobody.

Not much of a life though, hey?

So we’re out there with everybody else – and sure as little apples, if there’s a bug going round, we’re ALL gonna catch it.

No, no, it’s not going to be because someone coughed over us, or sneezed in our direction. It’s not going to be because somebody honked their guts out on the office carpet either.

We’re careful, we keep away. We’re sympathetic, yes – but we don’t let that stuff touch us.

Besides, the place LOOKS clean and our hands aren’t dirty. If whoever it is stays away from work, we’re laughing.

If only we knew.

Because they could stay away for a week and we still might catch it.

Telling ourselves we can’t SEE germs doesn’t mean they’re not there. And germs, believe it or not, can survive for weeks clinging on to whatever – not the same as a nice, warm bod, but do-able.

So yeah, they’re there alright, all around us – like raindrops in a rain storm… No, hang on, that’s not all-embracing enough – like steam particles in a sauna.

SURROUNDING us.

Our own bio-aura

For starters, we each of us trail a cloud of germs – actually a cocktail of bacteria, skin and hair debris, viruses, fungi particles and dust all around us wherever we go.

There’s more in the air too, swirling and floating in every space on Earth. Too small to see so we don’t even think that they exist. Good germs, bad germs – so universally present it’s almost impossible to avoid them.

Only by washing them away are we momentarily safe from them – or eliminating them from the space around us, which amounts to the same thing.

Otherwise, we’re at risk, every moment of our existence.

We’ll touch something that somebody else has touched – a door handle, a light switch, a salt shaker or a phone. Next minute, because we do, we’ll touch our face and that’ll be it – bacteria will get in through our eyes or mouth – we’ve got the bug.

Yeah OK, most of the time it doesn’t happen.

Careless hygiene costs health

Our life and its surroundings are clean enough and hygienic enough for us to get away with it.

Which means we get forgetful. Careless because we’re always on the go. We don’t clean things, because they don’t look dirty. Or we get Harry casual when we do, choosing a wipe instead of a proper scrub with soap. And as for disinfecting… not even on the radar.

Want an example?

Look no further than your favourite coffee hangout.

More especially, watch the barista make your start-of-the-day cappuccino to go. See that steam pipe on the Gaggia machine? That’s to bubble the milk, give it that distinctive foam al perfetto.

Uh huh.

Now watch the J-cloth that wipes the pipe, then into the plastic jug, waiting for the next order. Watch again. Same wipe action, back to the jug. Over and over – all morning if you watch long enough.

Not exactly hygienic, right? Shouldn’t that be a fresh cloth every time? Or a tear-off paper towel?

Yet who else is watching? Not even an inspector is likely to pick that up. Unconscious habit – and so perfectly normal that nobody sees a thing.

And that’s how it happens. Sleep-walking ourselves into sickness.

A little bit of soap

Like, be honest, when was the last time you washed your hands? Before you left home? When you reached work? After you hit the loo? Before your ritual ‘cino and Danish?

Don’t worry if you feel a twinge of conscience at the last two. Most people forget either of them are so vital – a wonder we don’t fall down dead with so many germs around.

Makes you think twice about the office though, doesn’t it?

Perhaps not as safe as you think.

Especially when Harry from Sales upchucks after the staff party.

All those germs floating around. Billions and billions of them. Often only 2 microns across – small enough to fall THROUGH an unglazed terra cotta plate.

Ew! Because it only takes around ten particles of norovirus – our favourite winter vomiting bug – to infect someone. And one droplet of vomit can contain 100,000,000,000 particles.

OK, so Harry stays away – and so do you. Except it’s near the photocopier, an area you can’t avoid.

Germ defence force-field

Nae problem, your work has got you covered with a Hypersteriliser.

You go home last thing – and the chars move in, right? And last thing when they quit is press the button on the machine.

Hisssssssss!

That’s ionised hydrogen peroxide misting up the place. Penetrating everywhere through the air space and oxidising germs on the fly. Over, under, behind, through – into all the cracks and corners. Over every surface too.

Forty minutes later, the place is sterilised. No viruses, no bacteria, nothing.

Next day, Harry is safe, home in bed.

And you’re safe with your ‘cino and Danish – after a turn by the wash basin. No point taking needless chances.

Except what? No Hypersteriliser, it was only on appro?

Better book your own sickie off now, it’s only a matter of time. And get the boss to order one fast.

Because you’re going to catch it.

So’s he.

Red-handed! Our biggest cause of food poisoning

Red-handed
The evidence is there – and it’s got our finger-prints all over it

It’s right there at our fingertips – and we never even know it.

None of the usual suspects either – not norovirus or c.difficile or salmonella or e.coli.

Not even campylobacter – though messing around with raw chicken can make you pretty queasy.

Sticky fingers us

Nope, it’s all of these and more. And the REAL villain of the piece is right under our noses – our own greasy, cotton-picking mitts.

Our own..?

Greasy? Cotton-picking?

A bit harsh isn’t? A bit rude?

Ah, but reality is harsh. The truth hurts, especially in denial.

Sure we washed our hands at some stage during the morning. And then?

Caught red-handed!

What about all the things we’ve touched, grabbed hold of, carried, pushed, pulled, fingered all over or thrown away? Were they clean too? Were they safe to handle without scrubbing up afterwards?

And, ew! How about when we went to the loo? Super gross, or what?

Celebrity dirty

Apparently not. No less a superstar than Hunger Games heroine Jennifer Lawrence publicly admits she doesn’t wash her hands after spending a penny. She even pees in the basin.

And she’s not alone.

So, yes. Greasy, cotton-picking, GERM-LADEN mitts.

Disgusting?

Only sort of.

Because we’re not really to blame. Just forgetful.

See, if our hands were VISIBLY DIRTY, pretty well all of us would wash them off right away. We know we don’t want that yuck going on our food – collywobbles for sure.

Concealed evidence

But they’re not visibly dirty, are they? They LOOK clean.

And that’s the problem – you can’t see germs. They’re too darned small. Two or three thousand on the POINT of a pin. Nothing to see here, move on, move on.

Not the same as if they itched like crazy (which some of them do, of course). Or caused a rash (they do that too). Or made us feel cold, or like our hands were in hot water.

But there’s no reminder, nothing.

And so we go merrily on, blissfully unaware – from one potential health hazard to the next.

Like when was that hanging strap on the Jubilee Line last wiped down with bleach? Or the escalator handrail? Or the grab-rail on the No 19? Does anyone ever wipe the push-rail of street door to the office building? Or even THINK about wiping the Lift Call button?

Causing sickness

Plus then of course, there’s the hiccup that we’re late – signal failure at Oxford Circus. But when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go – so the pee-break is a rush before we get to the office. And then, wouldn’t you know, it’s our turn to make coffee for everyone.

Rush, rush, rush – no time to wash our hands. But what the heck, they look OK, don’t they?

So Priscilla on the Help Desk never knows how she caught that stomach bug straight of nowhere. Gastroenteritis – nasty. Vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea – three days off, like death warmed up. And there’s us, praying we’ll never get it.

OK, just wash our hands.

Because there’s germs all around us, all the time.

And even when we’ve washed your hands, THEY’RE STILL THERE.

Our hands might be clean but everything else isn’t. Like our desks probably have 10 million bacteria on them each, right now.

It gets worse.

Like we probably think that washing up when we get home gets rid of the germs on our plates and knives and forks – just before we come down with – not gastroenteritis this time but salmonella. Vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea – same difference.

And no wonder. All that glurk, all in the one place – water, suds, grease, sauce, food bits, crumbs, dust – a totally iffy bacterial soup. Possibly the worst thing we could ever do to stay healthy. And we’re going to put our hands in that?

So, no reminder.

Avoiding sickness

As soon as we wash our hands, they get dirty again. Dirty in germ terms – cramps, diarrhoea, hospital, life support. Which means we have to remember, they’re DIRTY ALL THE TIME.

Kinda changes the rules in keeping ourselves healthy, doesn’t it? Not just avoiding food poisoning, but more serious stuff too. Bird flu, asthma, TB – or some hooligan virus we picked up on holiday chasing the sun. One of those serious, life-threatening ones.

DIRTY ALL THE TIME? Wash Hands Logo

To really play safe, we’ve got to wash our hands all the time too. Kinda impractical that, so make that wash hands before anything critical – and certainly after anything yucky. Like, before food, after loo.

And everywhere in between if we remember. Because among all the other things, we’re touching our faces 2,000 – 3,000 times a day too. Wiping our invisibly dirty hands on the germ-entry points of mouth, nose, eyes and ears.

So it’s not just food poisoning we’re worried about – it’s finger poisoning.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

And you imagined the worst that could happen today was a broken nail.

100 mph, eyes shut – crashed & burned, eating

Fireball
Eating with dirty hands is just as lethal

Yeah, well it looked safe enough.

Straight hamburger and chips, no big deal.

Except 2 hours later, cramps like dying. Upchucks more violent than a volcano. And you don’t want to know about the runs.

Uh huh.

Don’t blame the restaurant

But forget about suing anyone.

79 people ahead of this one ordered burger and chips. 38 people after.

None of them had anything wrong. Somebody having a laugh?

How come one case of “food poisoning” when everyone else was clean?

Clean – hold that thought.

As in clean hands.

Except it didn’t happen, did it?

The price of forgetfulness

Like doing the ton-up with eyes shut – on bald tyres, with no brakes or seatbelt.

Yeah, possible to get away with it once. Maybe even twice.

But keep chowing that burger without soap and water first – crashed and burned is inevitable.

Like hitting a brick wall. Gruesome at home, solo. Not nice either, at A&E. Better pray the stomach pump works. That dehydration doesn’t crash the body completely.

Dead from a hamburger?

Not unless it lodged in the throat – a Heimlich manoeuvre gone screwy. Not unless it was murder – strychnine or arsenic laced on top.

Hot off the grill

Because a burger gets cooked from frozen – dropped on the grill where it sizzles and does its thing at 155°F – that’s 68°C – too hot for germs like e.coli or salmonella. No food poisoning there.

Ah, but the hands that unwrap it and scoff it. On average, walking down the street, 10 million microbes on each hand. 20 million on both.

Yeah sure, plenty of harmless stuff, nothing to worry about.

Plenty of bad stuff as well. Like faecal matter from being careless in the loo. And all the usual suspects – e.coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, campylobacter, MRSA, flu and norovirus. Too small to see, but there anyway – just waiting for an opportunity.

Any one of those – crash and burn big time. Only about 100 deaths each per bug. Annoying reality though – dead unfortunately means dead. No chance to go round and wash hands again. Too late to say sorry.

Better to live

Reality means gone to the big fast food joint in the sky.

Time to slow down. Take it easy, wash hands first.

A lot less of a health hazard.

More chance of living to a ripe old age.

Hallo Captain – the cruise ship norovirus handshake

Boxer lady
How do you do? Yes ma’am I’ve washed my hands

Fist bump, not hand clasp.

And the Cunard cruise line has actually banned contact altogether.

No more courtesy greeting gestures, the Captain is officially off limits.

Shaking off sickness

Norovirus paranoia has finally spoken – with recognition that the bug is spread by physical contact.

Hence all the hoo-hah about alternative greeting actions, like fist bumps.

Fist bumps?

Er, no. For a classy £5,000-a-head swank-arama cruise on one of Cunard’s Queens, a “hey dude” greeting like a fist bump doesn’t exactly fit the protocol.

Not any ordinary cruise line, right?

Like, for a company currently celebrating 175 years in the No 1 slot of high society leadership, where’s the tradition and ceremony?

Because the time-honoured ritual of shaking hands is not just going through the motions, it’s a centuries-old signal of peaceful intentions – open demonstration that no weapon is threatening, the meeting is non-hostile.

Kind of important to a cruise line where the Captain is always in dress whites – you can even imagine a ceremonial sword too.

And you’re not a pirate.

Fist bump? Not on his watch!

Norovirus hysteria

OK, so the story has hit the headlines – and norovirus is the bad guy, again.

Notice how carefully everybody steps around the real issue behind ANY norovirus issue.

Somebody’s got dirty hands.

Uh huh.

Which is why all the nonsense with fist bumps – the norovirus handshake.

Not good enough, Jim – the stuff spreads on contact. The only way to be virus-free is the Ebola handshake – no contact means NO CONTACT.

Oops!

Denial, denial, denial

As if any of your top rank dowagers are going to admit dirty paws. Or any of your high-flying millionaire business types either. Dirty hands are dirty hands – exactly the same for celebrities and nobodies both. A revelation about white gloves for ceremonies, isn’t it?

And anyway, fist bump – where does that come from?

Pro boxers squaring up in the ring before a fight, that’s where – since the early 1900s. Legends like Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey. Shake like gentlemen and come out fighting.

Yeah, right. So your intentions ARE warlike.

You want to beat someone up – AND you want to pass on your norovirus – our modern take on the age-old insult “you make me sick”.

Reality check

Because, make no error – norovirus IS the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

You don’t get it from something you’ve eaten or dodgy hygiene in a restaurant. Not always, at any rate. Truth is, that is probably rarer than you think. Though restaurants always get the blame. For every one finger pointing, there’s always three pointing back.

Nine times out of ten it’s germs from your own unwashed hands that give you the stomach bug. The burger you chowed on during the shore excursion – or a close relative.

Puts a whole new perspective on food labelled “Gastro” doesn’t it? (Is it guaranteed to give you gastroenteritis?)

Because if we’re honest, when was the last time ANY of us washed our hands? A whole morning? A whole day?

And how many times have we been to the loo in that time?

Enjoying ourselves on a cruise ship – cokes, margaritas, milk shakes. Let’s not kid ourselves – that’s at least two diversions for a sprinkle.

Ew!

Down and dirty

And you ate that burger with your fingers?

Makes you queasy just reading about it, hey?

But there’s an answer. One that none of us seem to WANT to accept.

Denial is easier, it can’t happen to me.

Until the first cramps happen – the first upchuck.

There ain’t no immunity – and this stuff spreads like wildfire. But there is protection – we do have a defence.

Soap and water – easy.

Yet we run scared in denial, like vampires from garlic.

We even KNOW germs make us sick, yet still skip scrubbing up.

Masochists, right? We must want it to happen.

Unless of course, it’s enforced. They can’t make us do it at home – but they can at sea.

Safety Drill

ATTENTION PLEASE, THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING – ALL PASSENGERS MUST WASH THEIR HANDS BEFORE COMING ABOARD.

Aye, aye, Cap’n sir.

And instead of the norovirus handshake, maybe we should salute.

After all, issuing that order just saved us from the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

Disobeying it at sea is mutiny – risking the death penalty.

And that’s true.

Yup, get real. Norovirus is as common as the common cold and kills 200,000 people every year.

So over to you – it’s in your hands now.