Tag Archives: food poisoning

Would you risk your whole company for a few days of sick leave?

Worried Manager
It’s not having no staff you have to worry about, it’s having no company at all

Sick leave is sick leave, right?

People taking chances, skiving days off. Like, unless they’re in hospital, it’s all stitch up, yeah?

Productivity down the tubes because somebody has a sore toe.

Not an issue, except for staff discipline.

Show them you’re soft and they’ll take you for everything. All it needs is a little tightening up.

As if.

Beyond sick leave

Yes, sick leave is an issue. But small in the great scheme of things. A blip alongside the multi-million pound deals where the real action is.

Small, huh?

Try microscopic.

The size that germs are when they take you down. You, or any of your staff – we’re all human. When infection strikes, we’re all of us out of commission – real pain, real fever, real life threat if it gets out of hand.

Which is why sick leave.

Time out to get better. Quarantine to avoid taking other staff down too.

Side issue, yes – except it’s human assets that are at hazard. Productive only when the body is working well. Dodgy, dead risky, or downright dangerous when not 100%.

Yes, so somebody slopes off a day extra after a cold or flu. A small price against having the whole office out with the same thing. No hands when they’re most needed, so things start looking iffy.

“Nice take on this!” – Washington Post

Or riskier still, how about they DON’T take time off? Or not all the time they’re supposed to. So they’re working at half power, unwell at work, dragging everybody down with them. Screwing up left, right and centre because their minds are wet putty.

Paying that never stops

Costa Brava con job? Get ready for Costa Plenty.

Like how about the airline captain who lifts off for a long-haul flight with tummy cramps? £500 million worth of Airbus A380, 360 passengers – and lawyers lined up to infinity and beyond if anything goes wrong.

And if the worst happens, who’s going to fly with that airline ever again? What happens to their licence?  Is there any way back from such negative PR?

Can’t happen in your business?

Hey, when sick leave issues go pear-shaped, nobody is immune.

Like Mex-food restaurant chain, Chipotle. Staff recalled from sick leave early – still contagious. 133 customers down with food poisoning, share price drops 12%. And this on top off previous health incidents – only a bumpy ride back.

You see, sick leave itself is easy. Expensive, yes – business gurus PwC put yearly UK sick leave costs at £29 billion.

The hard part is the knock-ons. An average ten times normal sick leave cost for regular Tom, Dick and Harriets who struggle back to their desks as martyrs – an eye-watering £290 billion.

Damage control

And then there’s the damage control. What do those sick staff do when they’re not functioning and out of their heads, basically sitting there trying to stay alive? What can they cost with their mistakes and falling around? Double their salary? Triple? Check out the hairy possible Germonomics.

The mind boggles.

All of which says, don’t catch a cold. Treat sick leave seriously. Over-indulge if you have to. A few extra days off is chicken-feed alongside crashing the whole company.

Besides, what better motivation can you have for staff? You show you care and you’re thinking about them. Your ace in the hole. They might not volunteer the extra mile – but they’re sure to be OK with giving it, if you ask.

Which means profits are safe, staff are safe, everybody’s happy.

Can’t do better than that.

Picture Copyright: dolgachov / 123RF Stock Photo

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.

Good evening – first, please wash your hands – we don’t want to be sued for food poisoning

Restaurant Hosts
We wash our hands – with everything we do. Our business depends on it – so you don’t get food poisoning. You want to eat here safely, it’s your turn

Welcome and enjoy yourselves. But no-one suffers food poisoning at our expense.

Our reputation is at stake – and why should we pay for your lapse of hygiene?

Yes, yours.

You see, we have a business to run and a licence to protect. We can’t afford lapses.

So every one of us here makes a point of washing their hands before they do anything.  Or if they’re stuck at their post and can’t get to a wash basin, to use an antibacterial gel.

We think you owe us the same courtesy. We’re thinking of your safety and well-being, you should respect ours.

Because it’s not just washing hands.

We know from long experience that every aspect of hygiene matters.

Sure, it’s good presentation to have everything neat and clean and tidy. Spotless surroundings. Fresh table linen. Shining cutlery. Sparkling glasses. Not just for appearances, but for your health.

Germ-free or nothing

Everything you will use tonight is not only clean but germ-free. To be used once only and then cleaned again. No germs anywhere.

Our whole place is like that.

No dust, no dirt. Cleaned and polished several times a day. Scrubbed, vacuumed and disinfected. Our livelihood depends on it.

So you can imagine how meticulous we are in the kitchen. How careful we are that food prep is only in super-hygienic conditions. Created by staff who know their whole career is reliant on clean hands. As significant to them as to doctors and nurses. A rigid routine we never break.

We’re just as scrupulous with actual food too. Again, our reputation depends on it.

Yes, it’s fresh and carefully checked. Trimmed, sliced and chopped with knives dedicated to each food type to avoid cross-contamination. On surfaces thoroughly cleaned before and after preparation.

Then roasted, baked, boiled, steamed, fried, grilled or sautéed by clever hands. Hands always washed and washed again through every step. Not only for your satisfaction, but to keep you safe. So you’re never exposed to the slightest imperfection – at least not if we can help it.

You owe it to yourself

So how about you?

Yes, you’re welcome and we want you to enjoy yourself.

But food poisoning is a serious thing and we can’t afford to take chances. Which is why we’re so insistent on washing your hands. We need to protect you from yourself.

Because it’s hands that cause food poisoning, nine times out of ten. Hands touch everything every moment of the day. They feel, hold, manipulate, jab, brush and grab continuously. Collecting germs all the time – from every surface, in every location, even the air itself.

Ah, but how often do you wash your hands?

We can’t see germs, so we never think we’re contaminated. But it’s inevitable that we are, germs are everywhere – bacteria, viruses, fungi. We’re half-bacteria ourselves!

OK, so when did you last wash your hands?

Before you  left home?

And did you drive straight here? Both hands on the wheel, carefully below the speed limit, watching out for pedestrians?

Ah, but cast your mind back. That booze-cruise dash to France last weekend. Loaded to the roof with your favourite Cab Sauv and a last minute grande portion de frites at McDonalds before the ferry.

Have you cleaned the steering wheel since then? Given it anything more than a quick wipe?

And you drove here with clean hands, reckoning you’re safe?

Uh huh. Any idea how long gut-wrenching bacteria like MRSA or e.coli can survive on hard surfaces?

Or how about norovirus – you know, the cruise ship virus? That can last for months.  Hundreds of people ill and massive £10,000 pay-outs?  No thank you.

No visible dirt – fake clean

So you’re actually going to sit there, waiting for the menu, while we ask politely that you wash your hands first?

Excuse us, but we know the facts:

So no, you can’t have the menu – yet.

Other customers need to handle it after you – and we can’t take that risk. You might have e.coli, you might not. But we’re not getting nailed by some hotshot solicitors because some of our clientele ate here and felt queasy.

Like the rest of the place, our washrooms are kept clean and meticulously tidy. But if you want to stay at table because of your guests, here are some hand wipes for all of you with our compliments.

Please use them, then we’ll bring you the menus and a whole evening of enjoyment. And you won’t get food poisoning because we know our hygiene is good and our precautions work.

But just so we’re clear up front. If you don’t use these wipes and you come down with some tummy bug food poisoning, we’re not taking the rap.

Picture Copyright: IStockphoto/Doug Berry

However sick we are of norovirus, it’s our own careless fault

Depressed exec on bench
Is it worth it? Four days of hell like the end of the world – all from forgetting to wash your hands

Bah, humbug! Food poisoning, that’s what it is. Own careless fault be blowed, it’s those dodgy merchants.

Sure, sure. You’re not wrong about food poisoning. Norovirus pretty well always comes from something we’ve eaten, so can’t fault you there.

Thing is though, how did that food get poisoned in the first place?

Embarrassing reality

Yeah OK, dirt or contamination. You’re not wrong about that  either. But how does the dirt get there?

Tell you what, try a quick comparison. A Tom, Dick or Harriet nine-to-fiver going through a day. And a restaurant chef or kitchen staff member going through the same day – before our Tom, Dick or Harriet sit down to eat at the same place in the evening.

The 9 to 5 day

Start with the alarm at 6.30 (yes, people do get up at that time), hit the loo, wash and polish, cup of instant to get started and gone. The commute is an hour, so it’s newspaper or tablet – depends on whether they’re strap-hanging. The coffee-bar is their kick-start, for a takeaway flat white and Danish – then up in the lift and nosh at their desk while checking out the overnight emails. The rest of the day is computer and meetings, with the odd pop downstairs for a pee-break, and a sarnie from the local greasy spoon. Same drill in the afternoon and they’re done. Meet the other half for a couple of quick ones in the Red Lion and they’re ready. Sitting down and reading menus at just after 8.00.

The “Yes chef” day

More of a shock to the system, our caterer’s day starts at 3.30. Quick shower and black instant – allowing time for fresh produce shopping at New Covent Garden from around 4.30. Ten minutes for a cappuccino and an amaretti, then straight into Smithfield before the main mob arrive, meat-buying all done and dusted before getting to the shop at 8.00. Into the day with scrub-up and prep followed by staff nosh around 10.30, ready for serious head-down for the lunch rush – a whole day of scrubbing, chopping, slicing and dicing, all the time cleaning on the run. A break at 4.00 if all goes good, setting up for the evening and the VIP guest at 8.00.

Now the question in both cases – how many times did anybody wash their hands?

And just to keep things in perspective, here’s the normal behaviour pattern:

Gruesome hygiene facts

Uh, huh. Could just be that a chef or catering staff would have better hygiene habits than that. Dead-cert probability of getting fired otherwise. The slightest risk of food poisoning is the kiss of death – end of business, end of job, end of career. Careless faults are not allowed.

Worked out yet where the norovirus is coming from? Or how the bug got onto the food that got swallowed? Who’s careless fault is that?

The guilty nobody

OK, here’s another scenario. Exactly as before, except our chef is late arriving at the restaurant – buses on diversion because of a demonstration, cops everywhere, nightmare gridlock.

No problem, New Covent Garden deliver before it happens. Nobody there, so the stuff sits on the pavement by the front door. No chance of getting nicked, nobody at work yet. All restaurants do it anyway.

Only this time the underside of the lettuce crate picks up some yuck. And it winds up on the stainless steel table in the veg prep area when all staff flood in at a rush, running late because of the traffic.

It’s just a little hiccup in the hygiene, mind – so the steel table maybe gets less of a wipedown than it should. The clock is ticking and lunch could be late. Not a careless fault, but not forgivable either.

That’s all it takes and norovirus is in, all set to zap anyone ordering a salad. Three days later, disaster strikes – and the phone rings off the hook from irate customers.

OK yeah, it happens. And the careless fault is nobody’s. Or is it?

One finger pointing, three fingers pointing back

But it could just as easily happen the other way – when Tom, Dick or Harriet paw over the menu with their unwashed hands. Norovirus isn’t choosy, anyone taking chances with basic hygiene is fair target.

So who’s careless fault is it? ALL of us for not being watchful. Clean hands are so easy to achieve, yet most of the time we never even think about them.

Worth trying to remember though. Anything to avoid those end-of-the-world cramps and the deadly upchucks. Not to mention the acid runs that dissolve your guts out.

After you with the soap.

Picture Copyright: ljupco / 123RF Stock Photo

Eek, not food poisoning! Keep calm and cook food thoroughly

Woman butcher
Hygiene and common sense – we’re not utterly defenceless

Relax, nobody’s going to die. Or get the collywobbles . Or anything.

As long as everything is properly cooked, we’re all going to be fine.

Because unless you’re into sushi or steak tartare, nobody eats meat raw, do they?

And if whatever you’re preparing is affected by any bacteria or something, most germs are destroyed by the high temperatures of cooking – everybody’s safe.

Take our current scare with chicken.

There’s all kinds of  official bodies jumping up and down because nearly three-quarters of the chicken in any supermarket is contaminated with campylobacter. Nasty upset tummies with that one, some people can get quite seriously ill.

Inconvenient truths

But here’s a fact of life. Pretty well most poultry has campylobacter. It occurs naturally in birds and may even be necessary for healthy existence. So chickens aren’t contaminated, they’re colonised. Cooked thoroughly, they’re perfectly safe.

It’s like we don’t eat fish with scales, or prawns with the blue vein. They could make you ill too if you were careless enough. It’s part of proper food prep, like shelling eggs, skinning oranges or peeling potatoes.

Of course you DO have to clean everything thoroughly as you do it. Knives, chopping boards, prep surfaces and all utensils need a good scrub after working with chicken. So do your hands, to avoid any risk infection.

But you were going to do all that anyway – WEREN’T you?

It’s the same with Danish bacon. Still about the best you can buy anywhere – but these days unfortunately nearly three-quarters of all Danish pork is afflicted with MRSA.

Well, with so many mouths to feed around the world, we were the ones who pressured farmers in Denmark and elsewhere into boosting production with antibiotics. Shovelling the stuff into livestock in industrial quantities too – 240,000 tonnes a year and skyrocketing.

Superbugs everywhere

Small wonder then that with hundreds of thousands of pigs, any bacteria they were carrying developed resistance. So now we have LA-MRSA (Livestock Associated Methicillin Resistant Streptococcus Aureus) THREATENING us, just like campylobacter.

Well, yes. Except that just like campylobacter, cook that Danish pork properly and all trace of LA-MRSA is removed – the bacon is safe to eat, just like previously.

And right there are two examples of highly popular food types that on the surface present a hazard, but with proper precautions are really nothing to worry about.

Yes, it is disturbing that superbugs like MRSA are in our food. But with antibiotics being used by agriculture in such astronomic quantities, we should heed and take precautions anyway. More than likely all kinds of food types are laced with other superbugs and we need to be on our guard.

At least we can turn up the heat and get rid of most of them – part of the cooking we are already doing.

Worse than superbugs

Much more worrying are residual traces of the antibiotics themselves, which heat cannot get rid of unless you boil your food for hours, losing all taste and appeal.

All those animals were fed antibiotics to keep them healthy in the super-crowded environment of factory farms (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). With the money-making side effect that they fattened up for market in a quarter of the time.

Yeah, well – we eat those animals, we swallow the same antibiotics, we fatten up too. On the one-way road to obesity with all the inevitable complications – diabetes, heart disease, cancer. Literally to a dead end.

Getting rid of the antibiotics – that’s an issue all of us face and none of us are ready for.  A headache for governments and health authorities for years to come.

Superbugs in our food though – they’re a problem too, but we can make them go away.

Guess that answers the question, hey? Would you prefer rare, medium or well-done?

Picture Copyright: leaf / 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

If you buy someone a burger with dirty hands and they die from it, isn’t that murder?

Fingers pointing at woman
You did wash your hands, didn’t you? Didn’t you? DIDN’T you?

Can’t happen, right?

And at least it can’t be you.

Death by misadventure, more like. Just Fate.

Like, here’s this van parked up in a lay-by selling burgers and you’ve got the munchies, why not? A burger for your friend and bacon butty for you. Looks OK, lorry-drivers all use it, what could be wrong?

The price for not thinking

Food poisoning is what. The worst kind.

Only twenty minutes to kick in too. Doubled-up with cramps, explosive vomiting, cold to touch like you can’t believe – in a coma before you even get to A&E. Another hour and the worst happens – staphylococcal poisoning and some underlying condition nobody knew was there.

Your best friend – gone. Dead from a burger.

Not your fault, right?

How could you know that burger van was suspect? Could happen to anyone.

Yeah, but – even a burger van has to conform to standards.

Public liability insurance, health and safety, health and hygiene certificates – there’s a whole load of legal stuff they have to satisfy before they can hit the road.

Operating regulations too – buying from safe supply, clean preparation area, regulated cooking time, washing hands, covering hair, wearing aprons, handling food with gloves – they can’t just willy-nilly flip burgers.

Which means that burger was probably OK when they handed it to you. The bacon butty too – nothing happened to you, did it?

Yeah, that burger van’s hygiene standards were most likely 100% up to scratch. Those lorry drivers would complain like hell otherwise – and they’d soon go out of business if they weren’t. Fines, criminal charges – lots of nasties to avoid.

So how did it happen?

One finger pointing, three pointing back

You took the burger and the butty back to the car, she opened the door, you gave it to her – has to be the burger van.

Uh huh.

And just for the record, when did you actually wash your hands before all this? What were you handling? Did you touch or talk to anyone who had an infection? Did you handle their clothing or bedding?

Oh, sure. You MEANT to wash your hands. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t – most of the time we all THINK we did. Anyway, what does it matter?

Staph contamination on your hands is what.

We all KNOW we’re supposed to wash our hands after handling stuff – and we all KNOW we’re supposed to do it again before handling food.

It’s like a responsibility to ourselves, to keep us safe from anything happening. Basic hygiene we learnt as kids.

OK, but what about other people?

If we forget to wash our hands and then handle THEIR food, isn’t it our fault?

And isn’t that what happened?

Staph bacteria transferred to the burger, instant food poisoning – game over.

But nothing happened to you, because most of the time it doesn’t. Staph can grow naturally on the skin or in the nose of around 25% of us – all quite safe unless it gets on food.

Which is what hand washing is all about.

Death by negligence

So if you didn’t wash your hands, isn’t that negligence?

And if somebody dies because of it, isn’t that murder?

Not intended or pre-empted or anything, but a cause of death nevertheless.

Death by negligence. Murder, right?

At the very least manslaughter, or culpable homicide.

Yes, culpable – because we all know about washing hands before touching food, don’t we?

A doctor could get struck off for that.

And friends can die from it.

It’s not some ritual we can shrug off, or a matter of conscience. It’s a vital safety measure.

Like turning off power, keeping matches in a safe place, locking the front door, using a seat belt, wearing a crash helmet, checking a gun’s safety catch is on. Forget the last three of those, and we could wind up in court.

So why not washing hands too? It’s not a game or some silly habit. Nurses and doctors prove it every day in hospital – WASHING HANDS SAVES LIVES.

Or not washing them kills. Guilty, or not guilty? Murder or no?

Hold that thought – nag, nag, nag.

The life you save may be your own.

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.

Hand-held BLT disaster – Botulism, Listeria and Travellers diarrhoea

BLT in hands
It’s on your fingers, not in the filling

Scary this.

And slightly more than you might want to chew.

One of the world’s most popular sandwiches – loaded with tummy bugs.

Lunch time bad boy

Enough to take you down for a week or more – with hospital too, if dehydration sets in.

Actually, it’s not the sandwich. It’s probably you.

Because how are you eating it? With your hands, right?

Well of course, it’s a sandwich isn’t it?

Yeah, and in defence of all those thousands of sandwich-making companies (our local is the best in the universe) any bug you get is unlikely to come from them.

There’s too much to lose – happy customers, trading licences, health inspection. Have you any idea how tight the regulations are to protect you?

But you’re eating with your fingers, yes?

Straight in off the street.

Don’t touch it, you don’t know where it’s been

Not wrong, but ask yourself – when was the last time you washed your hands?

Because anything you might have touched before you grabbed that luscious BLT is now transferred to them.

And out in the street, thousands of people touch all kinds of things that you might touch too – almost a guarantee you’ll pick up whatever they’ve got.

Most times either blocked by your immune system – or in too little amounts to attack you effectively.

But wash your hands and the problem goes away.

Ordinary soap and water gets rid of 99.9% of germs – what the medics call Sterility Level 3 (count the 9s). Unless you’re unlucky, you’re probably safe.

Trouble is, we don’t wash our hands most of the time, do we? Especially out and about.

Once we’ve left home, we can go through a whole day without even thinking about it. Including after going to the loo, which so many of us somehow avoid.

Always on the go, it’s a grudge thing to do – like combing your hair or brushing your shoes. Too much PT and not enough time.

Until that innocent-looking BLT bites you back.

Yes, it’s food poisoning, but mostly transferred off your own hand. From any one of the trillions and trillions of viruses or bacteria that there are in the world. Take your pick for your own BLT.

B is for Bacon – and Botulism or B.cereus

Botulism for instance, is not very common – and not something anyone wants to catch. Because it’s not the bacteria themselves, it’s the toxins they produce that are so nasty. They attack the nervous system, not your tummy – causing paralysis that can kill you.

Much more likely on your fingers is b.cereus – yes, we ARE being serious! That’s bacillus cereus to give it its full name – also a toxin producer, but not quite so deadly. Vomiting and diarrhoea are its worst shots – usually all over in 24 hours. Leave your BLT lying around before you nosh it, and b.cereus jumps in on the bacon when it cools.

L is for Lettuce – and Listeria

Listeria is not nice either – and a real hazard for pregnant women. Because it’s not just unpleasant diarrhoea, listeriosis leads to aches, fever, loss of balance and even convulsions. Worst off all, expectant mothers could lose their babies.

T is for Tomato – and Traveller’s Diarrhoea

Traveller’s diarrhoea is the pits too, but not so threatening. Every traveller’s unwanted friend, it’s more commonly recognised as e.coli – one of the Big Four holiday bugs – e.coli, norovirus, salmonella and campylobacter.

No, you don’t want any of these. Which is why you wash your hands every chance you get.

Or if it’s too much of a drag, you carry antiseptic gel or antiseptic wipes.

For less than a quid a throw, they’re the easiest, quickest way to ensure you’re safe whatever you eat.

Not a disaster – a moment of pleasure.

Right there, at your fingertips.

Enjoy your BLT.