Wash your hands. That’s our simple summary to celebrate Earth Day.
Poor hand hygiene is likely the single largest contributing factor to diarrhea in North America. If we want to talk about waste, let's start with diarrhea's dire damper on productivity and resource losses starting with water and toilet paper. One missed handwash can ignite a chain of illness throughout the workplace, schools, guests, patients and family.
We do know that norovirus is by far the dominant pathogen causing foodborne outbreaks, like those endured by cruise ships, schools and nursing homes. Its primary path of destruction is confirmed by the CDC to be fecal-hand-oral. We are feasting on invisible germs, in this case, virus, picked up from others via casual contact with an ill person. This contact may be via food prepared by an ill worker. The source is often a person who shows no symptoms or from a surface which shows no symptoms - it's clean to the FDA accepted standard of "clean to sight and touch". Norovirus can live for days or even weeks and remains invisible and free of odor for the whole time. (See Dr. Christine Moe's work at Emory University.)
Here are our Earth Day recommendations focused on our daily lives away from home:
- Good hand hygiene starts with the design of the facility by making the best interventions available in the flow of its users. When a handsink is not available, use a hand sanitizer.
- No-touch electronic controlled faucets save nearly one gallon of heated water per handwash in the professional kitchen. In the public restroom their advantage in hygiene is obvious.
- When washing hands away from home, always dry with a single-use disposable paper towel. The friction can often double the effectiveness as measured on the log scale, preferred in the scientific world. Electric air dryers, even the new air blade versions, lack this advantage. In many ways a handwash with an airdryer is a half-handwash. It is also likely that the poorer the handwash, the more important is the friction of the paper towel. (For those families with kids, how white are those hand towels?)
- Use quality handsoaps that are user friendly to encourage frequent use. Closed dispensing systems ensure soap integrity and effectiveness. Check see-through refillable dispensers for visible gunge. Avoid publicly used bar soaps.
- Use alcohol based hand sanitizers like Purell (VF 481) between washings to minimize the person-to-person transfer of norovirus. See Emory University study.
- Use a recyclable nailbrush (fused bristles) to nearly double handwashing effectiveness, especially after using the toilet ... fecal-hand-oral!
- Patronize those foodservice establishments with well maintained, clean restrooms ... fecal-hand-oral! Patronize sandwich shops who use single-use gloves ... and change them often!
These seven sanitary suggestions can save you as well as other resources by avoiding diarrhea on Earth Day and everyday in your life away from home.