Time to survey toilets

The Western Mail in Wales reports the National Assembly’s Enterprise and Learning Committee has found education funding is so complicated schools are missing out on vital cash for basic facilities like clean toilets and classrooms as a result.

It is calling on the Education Minister Jane Hutt to lift the “funding fog”, and also wants the Assembly Government to carry out an immediate survey of all school toilets.

Sharon Mills, of Deri, near Bargoed, whose five-year-old son Mason died after contracting E. coli, said,

"We are living in the 21st century, yet many school toilets are like something from the dark ages."

Although it is believed the Deri Primary School pupil contracted the food poisoning bug through infected meat, many of the 150 people – most of them school children – who were struck down two years ago contracted the illness from people who were already infected. Promoting good handwashing habits is seen as one of the best ways of preventing disease.

But an inquiry by leading Welsh health experts found that a failure by many schools to provide basics such as warm water and soap for children to wash their hands after using the toilet encouraged the bug to spread.

Mother-of-two Pam Sacchi, of Bridgend, whose son Daniel, now 14, was hospitalised after contracting E.coli in 2005 when he was 12, said:

“I still have parents coming up to me, complaining their children don’t have soap to wash their hands with in their school toilets. This should not be happening and something needs to be done. I realise there are sometimes funding shortfalls but the health of our children must come first.”

Proper handwashing begins with access to proper tools. That is why soap and paper towels are a necessary requirement for any public bathroom.

Florida restaurant fined for keeping bread in bathroom

Eyewitness News in Sanford, Florida discovered a popular fast food restaurant, Checker’s. that’s accused of storing food on the floor inside the men’s restroom. The food that was left on the floor in the restroom was just one of several critical violations health inspectors found at a Checkers location in Sanford.

Employees at the Checkers store on South French Avenue at West 15th Street apparently decided it was okay to store buns for their hamburgers inside a not-so-clean men’s room.

Tuesday, it appeared they had changed the policy, but not before racking up a dozen health code violations.

America’s worst bathroom contest

Received an email from a company running a contest for the Scott Paper and White Cloud toilet paper today asking about a previous barfblog post on dirty bathrooms:

We are running an online contest for Scott Paper and White Cloud toiler paper in an effort to find America’s Worst Bathroom.  We have been notified by several entrants about an entry with a photo that appeared on your blog.  The link to the entry is here. Could you please contact me either via e-mail or; better yet, by phone as soon as possible?  I am trying to find out who owns the copyright for the image in question.  Did you take the photo?  If so, I have to remove this entry and replace it with another.  If not, the entry stays in the contest and I don’t have to make any changes.

Sounds like a serious contest.  I didn’t take the original picture, found it somewhere on the interwebs using Google Image Search (like a lot of the barfblog photos).  Go check out the contest and vote for the dirtiest bathroom.

Dirty drinking glasses in hotel rooms

HealthInspections.com has uncovered yet another television story that has found that the glasses don’t get washed.
WCPO in Cincinnati borrowed an idea that was first tried by a Fox television station in Atlanta. They placed hidden cameras into hotel rooms to watch housekeepers in action. 

WCPO found that instead of washing the drinking glasses in guest rooms, they’re just wiping them off and reusing them. And it’s happening at big name hotels such as the Hilton.

In one case, it shows a housekeeper wiping the bathroom floor with a towel then using the same towel to wipe off drinking glasses.

WCPO found glasses being reused at hotel rooms in Ohio, Kentucky, Kansas City, Phoenix, and Baltimore.

Rating the toilets

Paris in spring. I remember the toilet.

Specifically, the toilet on the sidewalk of a busy Parisian street.

And it looked exactly like this (left).

The N.Y. Times has stolen my idea for the cover story when I was appointed editor of the Ontarion, the University of Guelph student paper, in 1987, and decided to rate the local bathrooms as New York City unveiled its first coin-operated public toilet designed to be the high-tech equal of any of its counterparts in Paris, Singapore or other world-class cities.

(I went to local bars — and it cost the paper thousands in lost advertising revenue cause they didn’t like the results. This was before restaurant inspection disclosure.)

The story says that last week, two reporters, a man and a woman, visited six public toilets and, for comparison, two private ones, at a museum and a hotel.

Pennsylvania Station’s bathrooms are located in various companies’ waiting areas. The women’s room at New Jersey Transit was clean and every stall was working. Violins played over a loudspeaker.

The bathrooms in the main ticketing area at the Port Authority Bus Terminal are hard to find (there are no signs and the floor maps are difficult to decipher). There is debris on the floor. Signs warn that plainclothes police officers patrol the restrooms.
One sign details prohibited behavior, including smoking and drinking. It also warns that no one should “bathe, shave, launder, or change clothes.”

The main restrooms in the Egyptian Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art are just past “Egypt Under Roman Rule 30 B.C. — 400 A.D.” and are clean and well lighted, if busy. A bathroom attendant visited twice in the space of 10 minutes.

The bathroom at the St. Regis Hotel in Midtown is just past the candle-lighted library and down the stairs. The lighting fixtures are crystal and the faucets polished brass. A red flowering plant smells sweet. No one else is there.

Are bathrooms a good indicator for food safety practices?

I don’t believe they are.  I think there are lots of food businesses that have spotless toilets and bad food safety practices.  Ron Pelger of the Produce News suggests they are a good indicator:

The next time you go into a restaurant, I highly recommend that you visit the restroom first to check out the sanitation conditions of the establishment before ordering and eating your meal. Give it the old once-, twice- and three-times-over inspection. If it passes your examination, the restaurant must have high cleanliness standards.

Really? Pelger sounds pretty trusting. There is some great literature that suggests that inspection scores are not a good indicator of whether a restaurant is going to make someone ill. Should consumers also ask to see the conditions of the bathrooms and port-a-potties on farms and make decisions based on that? I don’t think so. I think we should be basing our decisions on what a produce distributor (grower/packer/shipper) can prove about the food safety practices on the farm, not what is possible to clean-up in preparation for a planned audit.

Pelger also writes:

There are many scenarios in the produce industry that can lead to product contamination. Through a sophisticated trace-back process, product can be traced to its original source. In the recent past, foodborne illness outbreaks were linked to spinach, lettuce and tomatoes. These cases have been traced back to their sources and the problems corrected. But what about areas other than farms? Could contamination be happening in other links of the food chain as well?

Pelger is right that food safety is a farm-to-fork, food system issue — but he unfortunately comes across as whining about how it’s not always farms (true) without suggesting how the entire supply chain should get together and address it. If an industry truly believes in the everyone-has-a-role-to-play mantra, they should help their partners (upstream and downstream) in producing safe food. And tell everyone about it.