NZ school’s removal of soap from children’s toilets labeled ‘appalling’

Whenever someone tells me of an outbreak at a school, day care, university residence, whatever, the first place I go, or someone more geographically-centered should go, is check out the bathrooms.

It’s easy to preach proper handwashing as a way to reduce the spread of infectious disease.

But proper handwashing requires access to proper tools.

So I check out the bathroom and usually find the tools, uh, missing.

Proper handwashing requires vigorous water flow (temperature doesn’t matter), a vigorous rub with soap, and drying with paper towel.

Garth Bray of TVNZ reports an Auckland primary school has dumped a policy that saw soap and hand towels removed from all children’s toilets.

The school felt the children were wasting those basic items, but failed to follow some of the most basic health advice with its policy.

“I think it’s appalling”, said Dr Michael Baker, who is the University of Otago Professor of Public Health.

“We’ve got good evidence in big trials showing that having handwashing can actually reduce risk of gut infections by about 30 per cent and respiratory infections by about 20 per cent so I think all of our schools need to be part of this,” Dr Baker told Fair Go.

Fair Go was contacted by four parents of children at the school who objected to the school withdrawing soap but had been told by teachers this was the policy.

Some had simply accepted this and started sending their children to school with little bottles of liquid hand soap to use.

However, one took her concerns to the principal and to a school board member.

Fair Go has seen written messages between the board member and the parent which say: “There are no legal requirements from the Ministry of Health and the students were wasting the soap and hand towels so they were taken out but every class has hand sanitiser that they encourage their kids to use regularly.”

That’ll work until the kids start drinking the stuff.

Fair Go spoke with the principal, who disclosed that classrooms were sometimes locked at lunchtimes, meaning children had no access to anything but water for washing before meals and after using toilets.

The principal told Fair Go that the same week our programme had made contact, the school board had decided to reverse the policy and will now stock toilets with soap and hand towels again.

On that basis, Fair Go has decided for now not to name the school publicly as it takes steps to make good its commitment to provide hygienic hand washing facilities for children.

“New Zealand’s got an appalling record of having very high rates of a lot of major childhood diseases – respiratory infections, skin infections and gut infections and these are exactly the things that hand washing can protect our children against,” Dr Baker said.

Fair Go’s advice is for parents to take a look at their own school’s facilities and reassure themselves their children have the essentials on hand at school.

I do.

And the school knows I check.

New hand dryer eco-friendly, food safe

I’ve waited a whole month for this Saturday to roll around. For weeks, I’ve been rinsing, drying, crushing, and collecting our cans, bottles, and boxes in anticipation. This Saturday is the day the county picks up our recycling. I have to drive my tubs to the library parking lot, but I don’t mind. I’m happy to be counted among those who choose to waste less. This reflects one particular side of my personality.

Another side is evident when I wash my hands: I soap up my palms and fingertips. I get between my fingers and up my wrists. After I rinse away the soap, I dry them thoroughly.

And this is the point where the two collide: When I go to dry my hands (and am not at home where clean cloth towels are available), I always reach for the paper towels over a blow dryer.

I know many trees are felled in the making of single-use paper towels, but blow dryers are disgusting: They collect microbes that may have been aerosolized when the toilet was flushed and then blow them onto your hands.

At least, most blow dryers do. HACCP Australia thinks the Dyson Airblade hand dryer can effectively dry hands without recontamination.

Australia Food News reports that the Dyson Airblade is the first hand dryer to be approved for use in food handling areas. AFN explains,

“Using high velocity sheets of unheated air, hands are dried in just ten seconds while, at the same time, 99.9% of bacteria and mould is removed from the air using HEPA filtration…The dryer, unlike conventional warm air hand dryers, does not blow bacteria back onto freshly washed hands nor use a heating element that can induce bacterial growth.”

As an added ecological bonus, the Dyson Airblade uses up to 80 per cent less energy compared with conventional hand dryers.

“Recently unveiled in Australia, the Dyson Airblade hand dryer has already had local success by receiving a New Product Award at its first public launch. It has now been introduced in food manufacturing areas at Cargill’s, Kellogg’s, Fletcher’s International, KFC, Tabro Meats, Wingham Beef and George Weston Food’s Tip Top bakeries, as well as a number of kitchens at McDonalds Restaurants.”

Until these are available in all the kitchens and public bathrooms I visit (and the data shows up on their microbial safety), I try to strike a balance between food safety and eco-friendliness: I use one paper towel to its fullest (two, if necessary), and avoid grabbing a handful out of assumption that they’ll be needed.

I hate assumptions.

No Soap at Subway

Courtlynn’s here and that meant a quick meal at Subway last night on our way home from the airport. The restaurant was fairly deserted and we only saw one male employee working. After we received our order to go, I ducked into the women’s restroom. While washing my hands, I reached for the soap and saw the sign pictured here. I rinsed with water and hoped the friction from the paper towel would be of some benefit. But I’m not serving meals to others and only had to hand Doug his sandwich in the car before eating my half. Proper handwashing requires the proper tools: water, soap, paper towels.

Katie, a.k.a. the woman who lives under our stairs, used to be a sandwich artist at Subway in the Soo. She says they got “into a lot of shit” if they didn’t keep the soap dispensers filled.

Eat fresh. Use soap.

Washing (and drying) your hands and grocery cart handles

Marcia Patrick, director of infection prevention and control for a health system in the state of Washington (and a spokeswoman for the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology), pointed out in the Washington Post this month,

"All the different things we touch in the regular course of our day can contain germs,” including grocery cart handles.

I tend to refer them as “pathogens,” but I agree: they’re everywhere. As such, I was quite excited to have my first experience with grocery cart wipes.

I, an avid user of lemon-scented disinfecting kitchen wipes, noticed a little stand in my local grocery store about a year ago that held a container of sanitizing wipes to use on the handle of the cart after the cart’s previous user (or user’s child) was done sneezing/coughing/drooling/chewing on it.

That container was empty for my entire senior year of college.

But last night, while shopping in a new location, I spotted another stand—this one complete with pre-moistened wipes! (That’s my husband, at right, wiping the cart handle.)

And they were certainly moist; I spent the rest of my shopping experience getting disinfecting juice on my grocery list.

Perhaps one wipe is intended to sanitize an entire cart, rather than just the handle…

Washing your hands is extremely important to avoid getting sick. Drying is an essential aspect.

Pathogens stick better to wet hands (and grocery cart handles). Drying them after washing will significantly reduce what you may pick up.

Paper towels are the ideal tools, as all handwashing agents are more effective when a paper towel is used for drying. (See Doug’s quote in a USA Today article that ran yesterday.)

Blow dryers are just disgusting. They collect pathogens that may have been aerosolized when the toilet was flushed and blows them onto your hands. (Yet another instance where ecological friendliness does not equate to microbiological safety.)

E-mail me for the refs, if you’d like. And don’t eat poop, people: Dry your freshly-washed hands and grocery carts.