Handwashing: Making it stick

Your Health columnist Kim Painter wants to know in USA Today tomorrow if the spike in handwashing compliance after SARS hit Toronto in 2003 will be replicated with swine flu in 2009 – and will it last?

In summer 2003, researchers descended on airport bathrooms in the USA and Canada and discovered a dirty truth: More than 20% of restroom visitors left without washing their hands.

But there was one big exception: In Toronto, which had just endured a deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), fewer than 5% of people left dirty-handed. During that outbreak, public health officials had repeatedly urged people to protect themselves by washing their hands.

Doug Powell, a food scientist at Kansas State University, said if changing handwashing behavior was simple, "we wouldn’t have so many people getting sick each year."

The story summarizes handwashing compliance advice for businesses, schools and hospitals as:

•The voice of authority. Just as federal health officials enlisted Obama to endorse handwashing, Dan Dunlop, president of Jennings, a North Carolina marketing company that has designed handwashing promotions for hospitals, has enlisted hospital CEOs and medical chiefs to inspire handwashing in their troops. School principals, PTA presidents and restaurant managers could do likewise, he says.

•The audience. "With younger people, what seems to work is being blunt and gross," Powell says. Powell, who writes at barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu, tells his students that when they eat without washing their hands first, they may be eating feces. (But he uses another word.)

•Social pressure. In one unpublished study, Craig found that petting-zoo visitors who left a barn through a crowded exit washed their hands more often than those who left by a less-crowded door.

•Keeping supplies up. Powell says he hears often about bathrooms in schools, college dormitories and other germ hotspots that lack soap (or paper towel – dp).

Wolfgang Puck sued for crappy bathroom

Celebrity blog TMZ reports that celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck is being sued over a restaurant bathroom.

A woman claims she just wanted to take care of some toilet business during a lunch at Puck’s most famous Beverly Hills restaurant, Spago back in 2007. But according to the lawsuit, filed in L.A. County Superior Court, the bathroom floor was covered in "standing pools of urine and feces" — and the only usable toilet didn’t have a lock on the door.

The woman also claims she had to use one of her hands to hold the door closed while she took care of business on the throne. But mid-squat, with her hand stuck firmly on the handle, another woman allegedly yanked the door open causing Linden to fall "face-first onto the tile floor."

Reps for Spago claim the woman is completely full of crap when it comes to the cleanliness of their bathrooms — "In our 27 years of business we’ve never had an issue close to this … that portion of the claim is totally without merit."

Wolfgang had some hepatitis A problems back in 2007.


Man sprays feces, urine into pub; maybe he should have just asked for a refund

An Algerian-born chemist has been found guilty in a British court of contaminating food and wine by using his own urine and feces.

The court had heard man sprayed the mixture in the Air Balloon Pub, in Birdlip, near Cheltenham on 14 May, 2008.

He then moved on to the Waterstones bookstore in Cirencester, Tesco in Quedgley and Morrisons in Abbeydale.

The court also heard shoppers and staff in both stores saw the man with a black lap top computer with a vapor coming from the bag being sprayed on the shelves. He is likely to be deported.

Mud with sheep poop sickens mountain bikers

Hundreds of mountain bikers competing in separate races in British Columbia and Wales in the past year were stricken by campylobacter, apparently from contact with feces-laden mud.

Now, the National Public Health Service for Wales (NPHS) and Environmental Health officers at Powys County Council have concluded the Welsh outbreak was probably caused by campylobacter, spread to the cyclists by mud which was contaminated with sheep feces.

The report acknowledged that, given the nature of mountain bike events, it would be impossible to eliminate the risk of catching such an infection, but made the following recommendations:

* Participants should avoid using soiled drink and food containers
* Pre-packaged food should be eaten out of the wrapper
* Where possible, hands and utensils should be washed before consuming food and drinks
* No open food should be served at events.
* Drinks produced in large volumes for consumption by participants should be dispensed using a method which does not require the repeated immersion of utensils.
* Organisers should consider providing facilities to wash hands and water bottles with clean, running water
* Wherever possible, courses should be re-routed to avoid areas which are heavily contaminated with animal faeces
* Mountain bikers, particularly those who are vulnerable to infection, should be alerted to the potential risk of acquiring zoonotic illnesses from participation in events which cross land used by agricultural and other animals.

 To comment on the report, email bikes.outbreak@nphs.wales.nhs.uk.

It’s all about the poop

In my food safety travels, I’ve heard — and seen — a lot of things. And I’ve repeatedly heard that many of those urban vegetable gardens, especially those producing for certain cultural sub-groups, make use of human feces as a form of fertilizer.

A story in today’s Goleta Valley News in California tries to pry into the world of gonzo gardening.  Fairview Gardens is a 12.5 acre urban organic farm at 598 N. Fairview Ave. Unhappy neighbors turned out to an Aug. 13, 2007 planning commission meeting to air their concerns about the farm’s operations and practices.

Steve Chase, Goleta’s director of planning and environmental services, said,

"There were two main issues we wanted to address. Are they using the orchard as a toilet? And are they meeting sanitation standards with regards to the city’s code?"

Charles Hamilton, a retired physician who has been living on Connor Way, a cul de sac that abuts the west side of the farm, since 1964, was quoted as saying,

"I do not want a (human) compost toilet 50 feet from my back yard" adding that he has doubts that the composting toilet will be monitored sufficiently to allow for the proper decomposition of human feces, and the presence of human manure would contribute to the smell, horseflies and potential for illness as a result of the bacteria in the raw sewage."

Linda Halley, who has been with the farm for a year and a half, said human waste is from trespassers, not farm workers  and that,

"We have sold fresh produce grown on this farm nearly daily for well over 20 years, to members of our own community. Zero incidents of food poisoning have occurred. I do not take the accusations of using human manure and being a possible source of E. coli contamination lightly in this day and age of many serious food poisoning incidents."