E. coli is an organism almost exclusively of faecal origin, and food safety outbreaks are usually the result of poor hygiene. We all know we should wash our hands before preparing food, so why do we fail to do so at the cost of people’s health? A 2012 study1 carried out in the UK by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London, found over a quarter of hands sampled contained faecal contamination and bacteria such as E. coli – proving the UK to be a nation of poor handwashers. Although we all claim we wash our hands often enough, the faecal contamination on the money, credit cards and even mobile phones2 we handle suggests otherwise. Studies have shown people claim to wash their hands after going to the toilet, but the number of people that actually do so is a lot less3. Many people withdraw money from cash points which are covered with more germs than our toilet seats, then handle this dirty money before preparing food with unwashed hands – a recipe for a food poisoning outbreak. And of course, there is laziness – a deep rooted social trait that is hard to change. How many of us actually wash our hands properly: 20 seconds with soap and water? It is estimated that washing our hands with soap and water could reduce diarrhoea-associated deaths by up to 50%4 and save a million lives: a fact that should motivate us to be more vigilant when it comes to hand washing. But will we ever change our ways? Perhaps it may take us all getting a bout of food poisoning for us all to appreciate the significant effect hand washing can have on our health… References
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 2012 news release Dirty money
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 2011 news release Contamination of mobile phones and hands revealed for Global Handwashing Day
- London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 2009 news release Is the person next to you washing their hands with soap?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hygiene fast facts
What do you think? Should government do more to educate and encourage, or is it up to the individuals?