PR before publication still bad idea; people pushing Lysol cite cross-contamination

In Sept. 2000, I called Procter & Gamble to substantiate claims their consumer-oriented Fit Fruit and Vegetable Wash removed 99.9 per cent more residue and dirt than water alone.

The PR-thingies hooked me up with some scientists at P&G in Cincinnati, who verbally told me that sample cucumbers, tomatoes and the like were grown on the same farm in California, sprayed with chemicals that would be used in conventional production, and then harvested immediately and washed with FIT or water. The Fit removed 99.9 per cent more, or so the company claimed.

One problem. Many of the chemicals used had harvest?after dates, such as the one tomato chemical that must be applied at least 20 days before harvest.

That tidbit wasn’t revealed in the company PR accompanying Fit.

Residue data on produce in North American stores reveals extremely low levels, in the parts per million or billion. So that 99.9 per cent reduction was buying consumers an extra couple of zeros in the residue quantity, all well below health limits.

Sorta like the annual crap survey produced by the Environmental Working Group that came out today, with its produce dirty dozen.

Back in 2000 I asked why the results hadn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the P&G types said it was an important advance that had to be made available to consumers as soon as possible, without the delays and messiness of peer-review.

Press release before publication is always a bad idea – cold fusion?

Today, something called the Hygiene Council flogged a press release touting a study showing meal preparation can contaminate up to 90 per cent of kitchen surfaces touched.

In the 2012 Lysol Cross-Contamination Study, volunteers were asked to prepare a chicken stir-fry, fresh green salad, and packed kids’ lunch. Results showed significant cross-contamination in the kitchen, which spread to other hand-contact surfaces, kitchen towels, cloths and sponges.

Overall, hand hygiene was seen to be relatively poor. Volunteers were more likely to simply rinse their hands after touching raw chicken or vegetables than wash them with soap, even when it was provided. Just one participant in the study washed their hands with soap every time they touched raw chicken; and only two of the six participants washed their hands with soap before filling a child’s cup with water after touching raw chicken.

It is fairly common knowledge that raw chicken and other raw meats can carry harmful bacteria, but study results show that many people do not realize that raw veggies can as well, as evidenced by a deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe last summer from raw, unwashed vegetables.

None of the study participants washed their hands after touching raw vegetables, nor did they wash all of the salad items before eating them. When switching tasks, volunteers failed to use separate knives for preparing meat, vegetables, salad, and sandwiches. Consequently, chopping boards and knives were found to be contaminated in 92 per cent of cases.

This sounds like great stuff. So I was nerdly anxious to read the paper, examine the methodology and see what could be learned.

There is no paper. Maybe there will be, maybe it’s a great study, but without it, mere mortals rather than marketing titans have no way to assess its validity. Or validate the claims.

There were three elements to the study:

Volunteer study (microbiology): Six volunteers carried out a series of kitchen tasks and microbiological analysis was conducted on the surfaces/objects they touched to detect bacterial contamination

Volunteer study (observational): The same volunteers were observed and filmed. They were assessed against a number of hygiene behaviors to determine whether they used good or poor hygiene practices

Marker study: The same tasks as in the Volunteer Study were carried out by an environmental health practitioner (EHP). The study used foods deliberately contaminated with Serratia rubidaea, an easily detectable bacterium, to clearly show the potential spread of contamination and to compare the level of contamination caused when good or bad hygiene practices were used.

PR before publication is a bad idea.