One of the silver linings of COVID pandemic for me as a food safety instructor has been the increased focus on handwashing and sanitizing surfaces. I am especially thrilled about increased handwashing since the correlation between health and handwashing is not visible. I am concerned that once folks get the vaccine, they will let up on some of these important food safety practices. We have learned that soap and water is highly effective in removing influenza virus and inactivating coronaviruses that are transmitted via human hands. Hand hygiene has been demonstrated to reduce the incidence of health care-associated infections. What we may not realize is that handwashing is also effective in preventing foodborne viruses on hands as well. Over the years, viruses (vs. bacteria) have emerged as the number one cause of foodborne illness, the goal is always the same: Prevention.
Although there have been certain foods associated with viral outbreaks, almost any food item can be involved, if it has been handled by an infected person. Viruses do not multiply or produce toxin in foods. Foods merely act as vehicles to transfer it. This can happen anywhere along the flow food(production, processing, distribution or preparation-sometimes referred to as field to fork). Viruses can be transmitted to food handled by infected restaurant workers. Interestingly , most documented foodborne viral outbreak can be traced to food that has been manually handled by an infected food handler, rather than to industrially processed food. Outbreaks frequently involve cold foods that require a lot of handling during preparation and thus, more potential for contamination. If viruses are present in foods after processing, they typically remain infectious in most foods for several days or weeks, especially if kept cooled (at 39°degrees F).
For the control of foodborne viral infections, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of handwashing and how viruses spread by people handling food in a foodservice establishment or at home. Strict emphasis should be focused on personal hygiene during preparation. Hand washing is one of the most important things you can do to prevent food poisoning. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and running water. Scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
Reporting of Foodborne Illness
It is amazing to realize that only a small fraction of foodborne disease cases get reported when we consider that in the U.S. there were 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illness, and 55, 961 hospitalizations and 1,351 deaths. For centuries, hand hygiene. With the renewed attention to handwashing during COVID, we should have gotten into good habits of handwashing and sanitizing surfaces.
Now, how do we keep handwashing at the forefront of our mind?