USDA reports the latest foodborne risks in terms of annual costs and deaths.
“… staff told to wash their hands more often.”
After the closing of another world class restaurant due to a norovirus outbreak, a piece of world class food safety advice was passed along by London's health inspectors as reported in The Guardian newspaper: “Environmental health officers have told staff at the two Michelin star restaurant to wash their hands more often, an embarrassing order for those preparing evening starters beginning at £12 and main courses ranging up to £42.”
Outbreak Sickens 75 at Minnesota Banquet
Might the norovirus have entered the catered event via an ill worker, perhaps symptom-free? Or a guest? Or from contact with a high-touch surface contaminated the week before?
Defining a safe level for handwashing frequency
Norovirus outbreaks commonly raise this question: What is a safe level for handwashing frequency?
If we look to the FDA for answers, the Model Food Code wisely avoids getting over prescriptive, considering all the variables.
The CDC conducted a valuable observational study using the Model Food Code as its benchmark. They concluded 8.6 Handwashes/Employee Hour (HW/EH) were required to be code-compliant, a total of 69 Handwashes per 8 hour shift
This led to other questions: Is the Model Food Code already over-prescriptive or truly risk-based? Would this level of handwashing be in conflict with customer service? In general, a level of 8.6 HW/EH is seen as too much to ask of employees. Regulators generally agree.
More effective use of tongs and wraps can lower the need for handwashing but the basic issue remains. Some situations, like following restroom use, clearly demand a good handwash. A casual touch of the face or hair is a lot less risky yet the Code specifies the same handwash for both. Is that risk-based or inspection based?
A frequency rate target of 8.6 HW/EH discourages reasonable, attainable compliance improvement. It protects the status quo. "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good."
We believe the Food Code in this case should prioritize the risks by establishing categories of High, Moderate and Low. Operators then set up a controllable process based on risk, a process to which they are committed.
Last year's fast start on the Norovirus season caused concern from the CDC, FDA and all food safety savvy operators. This year two of the largest cruise liner outbreaks ever sent two ships back to port early with over 900 vomiting passengers. Once again the focus is on guest handwashing and the cleaning of shared surfaces, now recognized as a major guest-to-guest hazard.
Norovirus or Winter Vomiting Disease. Vomitus or Diarrhea. Fecal or Faecal. Contaminated Hands or Surfaces. Foodborne or Person-to-Person. We hear a lot of conflicting distractions. The six simple truths about norovirus are these:
Hand drying is a misnomer. The friction added by using a paper towel is a significant part of the "handwash". Using air dryers of any type, can leave a high level of suspended contaminants in place. The shorter the scrub step, the more important it is to use paper towels. This is especially true in restrooms where the Splash 'n Dash is the standard and residues are naturally nasty.
New research documents multiple shortcomings
Research from the University of Westminster in London England gives yet another reason to stay away from air dryers in kitchens and restrooms. They are well known for being slow and even the new air blade technology does not offer the friction factor needed in this final cleansing step. Users strongly prefer paper towels and the mere presence of air dryers may discourage handwashing all together.
Now comes this news showing pathogen breeding and having bacteria blown around the room, deposited on surfaces up to 6 feet away. This is especially troubling as we learn more about the lengthy survival times of the highly infectous norovirus on restroom surfaces, documented in Emory University research here or below.
How three new standards, a new practice and a new product gang up on norovirus.
New Hand Sanitizer Ready For Norovirus "High Season"
400 norovirus victims are showing up daily at emergency rooms in NYC
Effectiveness data for a new breed of alcohol hand sanitizer was presented earlier this month to a group of foodservice and hospitality professionals in Europe.
SaniTwice® for Catered Events
Uncompromised hand cleanliness for those serving food at venues without running water.
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