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Hand-washing key to food safety

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VOL: 97, ISSUE: 22, PAGE NO: 53

Kathryn Little

The key focus of National Food Safety Week (June 11-17) is hand-washing. Recent publicity has highlighted the risks to the public from poor standards of animal husbandry, food production and processing, particularly during the BSE crisis and the outbreak of E. coli 0157 in Scotland. Continuing evidence in the weekly Communicable Disease Report suggests that cases of food-borne illness continue to rise.

The key focus of National Food Safety Week (June 11-17) is hand-washing. Recent publicity has highlighted the risks to the public from poor standards of animal husbandry, food production and processing, particularly during the BSE crisis and the outbreak of E. coli 0157 in Scotland. Continuing evidence in the weekly Communicable Disease Report suggests that cases of food-borne illness continue to rise.

In this issue of NTplus, we present a Campylobacter factfile to raise awareness of some of the issues about this organism which is now more frequently associated with food-related illness than any other.

Food-borne disease is caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages, including water. Most are infections caused by bacteria and viruses. After the organisms are ingested and during an incubation period of variable length they attach to the cells lining the intestines and begin to multiply. The symptoms produced depend on the microbe, but commonly diarrhoea, nausea and abdominal cramps feature.

What can be done to protect ourselves and others? A large proportion of food poisoning probably occurs as a result of food preparation in the home, where principles of food hygiene are often ignored or unheard of. Education is one of the key elements in a successful campaign to reduce the incidence of food-related gastrointestinal illness. Although National Food Safety Week is aimed largely at the general public, nurses can benefit from the initiative and use it as an opportunity to consolidate and apply the principles of hygiene and infection control to their practice.

In giving advice we should remember the following:

- Food should be thoroughly cooked.

- Foods should be separated, covered and stored correctly. Do not store raw and cooked food together.

- Hands should always be washed thoroughly before and after handling food and after using the toilet.

- Utensils should be washed thoroughly after each use. Separate utensils should ideally be used for raw and cooked foods.

- Preparation areas should be washed thoroughly after each use.

- Refrigerate food promptly.

- Wash produce thoroughly before use under running tap water. Fresh manure used to fertilise organic vegetables can also contaminate them. There have been suggestions that using a weak solution of sterilising fluid may be beneficial in reducing risk.

There are many opportunities for food to become contaminated as it is produced and prepared. One way is from the hands of infected humans who handle the food, and that is why hand-washing, that most important of all infection control activities, is the targeted subject for National Food Safety Week.

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