Do ‘Employees Must Wash Hands’ signs keep the piss out of happy meals?

Jon Stewart did an admirable job hosting the Oscar’s last night, although he’s better on The Daily Show.

One of his best lines, however, comes from a 2002 hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, where he said,

“If you think the 10 commandments being posted in a school is going to change behavior of children, then you think “Employees Must Wash Hands” is keeping the piss out of your happy meals. It’s not.”

That came to mind as I read Friday’s N.Y. Times blog entry about handwashing and the lack of soap at Socialista where some celebrities now are being encouraged to keep hepatitis A shots.

Jennifer Lee writes that “Employees Must Wash Hands Before Returning to Work,” signs are required by the city health code in all bathrooms in restaurants and bars. Sometimes the signs are in Spanish and Chinese, as well as English.

The Health Department issued a Hepatitis A warning on Thursday after discovering there was no soap behind the bar at Socialista, a code violation, when it found that a bartender who worked there was infected with Hepatitis A.

City Room called up the Soap and Detergent Association, a Washington-based industry trade association, to get their thoughts on the missing soap.

Brian Sansoni, the association’s vice president of communications, was quoted as saying,

“Surely a place that charges $12 for a cocktail can afford a 99-cent container of liquid soap. … Soap-making was known as early as 2800 B.C, It’s not necessarily a new technology. … You can get soap in bar form, liquid form, foam. It’s not like we’re trying to find Kryptonite here. We’re talking about soap. As basic as soap is, we hear too many cases of too many places with not enough soap.”

Proper handwashing first requires access to proper tools: running water, soap, and paper towel.

Antibacterial or regular soap?

Proper handwashing requires access to the proper tools — soap, water and paper towel.

But what soap is best?

Allison Aiello, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, was cited as telling the Los Angeles Times that antibacterial soaps may give consumers an added sense of security, but "they don’t seem to provide a benefit above and beyond ordinary soap."

Aiello and colleagues recently surveyed 27 separate studies that investigated the effectiveness of soaps containing triclosan. Some studies looked at rates of infectious diseases; others measured levels of bacteria that lingered on hands after washing. As the researchers will report in an upcoming issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, they found no evidence that antibacterial soaps prevent more illnesses or remove more germs than regular soap.

Aiello also points to several laboratory studies suggesting that triclosan can help bacteria build up resistance to commonly used antibiotics such as methicillin and erythromycin. Because of these potential risks, Aiello says, regular soap would be a better choice.

But Emily Sickbert-Bennett, a public health epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health who has studied antibacterial soaps, was quoted as telling The Times there’s "no good evidence" that triclosan has encouraged antibiotic resistance in the real world. She says consumers can safely use antibacterial soaps without worrying about creating super-bugs.