Using Good Contamination Control Practices Can Improve Health
Harold D. Fitch
As a contamination control professional, you probably know how important cleanliness is. It is true that many contamination control practices can be applied to everyday life–outside of our jobs–to improve our health.
We know why our mothers told us to cover our mouths when we sneeze. The spit droplets are spread far and wide by normal conversation, while a sneeze is like a tropical hurricane.
Let`s take this further. Consider how often we shake hands with another person when meeting them, or when congratulating them, as a greeting in church and on numerous other occasions. If a person has a cold, has sneezed recently, and then not washed their hands, there is a high probability that cold germs will be spread. It is a fact that frequent hand-washing will reduce the spread of bacteria and germs that cause disease, and that the reduction in germs will be much more effective if we use soap and hot water to wash our hands.
Demand Hot Water
Also, it is true that washing clothes in hot water kills germs and is effective in reducing the spread of disease. Both of these processes can be made much more efficient by using products designed to be either antibacterial or antimicrobial. Energy conservation trends have led many establishments to cut back on hot water for washing, particularly in public places. Demanding hot water for washing hands in any public place and particularly, in the workplace–especially restaurants–can help reduce contamination. Hot water should also be used for washing clothes. If we have to wear special garb such as cleanroom uniforms or other special clothing, we should have some assurance that they have been cleaned in a manner that will reduce germs and bacteria. Combining the use of hot water with antibacterial and antimicrobial products is essential.
One of the most dangerous places harboring bacteria is the kitchen, whether in homes or in commercial eating places. The problem starts with coliform bacteria–unwelcome invaders that come into the kitchen on the basic food supply. Coliform bacteria can be found on surfaces of beef, pork, and lamb. They can often be found in poultry and have been found in raw eggs, tomatoes, cantaloupe, cider, lettuce and onions. The dangerous bacteria spreads by cross-contamination we would never allow on important industrial products. We shouldn`t allow it to happen when our own health and the health of those we love is at stake.
Cross-contamination happens when you cut up poultry on a cutting board and contaminate your hands. If you mop up the juices with a sponge, the bacteria spreads to the sponge. If you wipe your hands on a dish cloth, the cloth becomes contaminated too. Then, if you open the refrigerator, its handle is contaminated, hence bacteria is easily spread throughout the kitchen. Both the sponge and the dishcloth are ideal places for bacteria to grow and spread. All are cases of classic cross-contamination we are aware of and take steps to prevent in our everyday industrial surroundings, but which we don`t give much thought to in our homes.
The only saving grace in this scenario is that our immune systems are very efficient at fighting infection. Still, the very young and the very old have reduced immune systems and may easily be infected, as may anyone suffering from diseases such as cancer. The actual problem is probably much worse than what we hear. Paul Sockett, an epidemiologist for disease control in Ottawa, Ontario estimates 38 unreported bacterial infections from food for each one that is reported. Many foodborne illnesses go unrecognized because we attribute them to causes such as the flu and upset stomachs.
Unfortunately, many common cleanliness practices in the kitchen cause cross-contamination, even though we think they are reducing it. Implementing the following practices can help reduce the risk of disease in kitchens:
Wash all incoming foods before use, particularly raw, fresh and uncooked foods.
Wash hands frequently and thoroughly during meal preparation (particularly after handling raw meat or poultry). An antibacterial soap and hot water will help.
Clean all work surfaces with bleach solutions or antibacterial soaps and sprays. This includes sinks, counters, tables, cabinets, cutting boards, handles, faucets, and working utensils.
Use paper towels whenever possible and discard them often to avoid cross-contamination.
Use dishwashers whenever possible. The hot drying cycle sterilizes, and most dishwashing detergents contain bleach that kills bacteria.
Include your sponges, dish cloths and scrub brushes in a dishwasher load. These are ideal vehicles for bacteria to reside in, multiply and spread.
If you do not have a dishwasher, wash dishes in hot soapy water with antibacterial soap.
Do not let dishes soak in the sink. The combination of food and hot water provides the ideal conditions for bacterial growth. If dishes must be soaked, pour soapy water down the drain or dispose of it in the garbage, then rinse dishes well in hot water, followed by washing, hot water rinse, and air drying. Air drying is superior to wipe drying because wiping spreads bacteria.
Use separate cutting boards for different purposes; one for raw meats, one for other foods to be cooked, and another for foods that won`t be cooked. Always wash boards between uses. Plastic boards are good because they can be washed in a dishwasher. If you use wooden boards, wash and scrub between uses with bleach or antibacterial solutions. Knives or other utensils should always be cleaned between uses (a knife just used on poultry can rapidly contaminate the next item cut if not cleaned between uses).
Color-coding cutting boards and other items like cleaning cloths or sponges for special uses can help cut down on cross-contamination (always use a separate cutting board for poultry).
The results of many studies have found repeatedly that the kitchen is the source of a variety of bacterial infections attributed to some kind of “bug going around.” Despite technological expertise and inspection efforts, our food supply today is probably more contaminated than ever before, because mass processing of meats inevitably results in cross-contamination.
As contamination control professionals, we have the base of knowledge that can help keep those in our household healthy. n
Harold Fitch is president of Future Resource Development, a consulting firm in Burlington, VT, specializing in cleanroom education and problem-solving. He conducts international training seminars for CleanRooms` shows and seminars.