Most of us have been practising good hand – and home – hygiene long before it became de rigueur but as the corona virus pandemic spreads around the world, there’s no harm in reminding ourselves how practising good hygiene habits can help prevent the spread of disease and cut the risk of infection in our homes, both now (particularly during our self confinement) and long after the pandemic has run its course.
Everyone thinks they know about home hygiene (we learned it from our mothers right, and how could they be wrong?) but significant changes in our shopping, cooking and eating patterns (increase in microwaveable meals, popularity of outdoor eating e.g. barbecues, catering for large numbers in the home, globalisation of food supplies), means we now need to be far more aware of our general hygiene habits and food safety.
The truth is, our homes are not always the safe havens we assume them to be – more people get food poisoning at home than in any other place. The Food Standards Agency reported over a million cases of food-borne illnesses in one year. These included 20,000 hospital admissions and approximately 500 deaths, costing England and Wales an estimated £1.6 billion.
We all know (or we should do by now), that good hand washing is the single most important way to reduce the spread of infection and that our hands should be washed continuously throughout the day:
after visiting the toilet – changing a nappy – before handling ready to eat food – touching used tissues – after coming in from crowded areas – before bedtime – before applying make-up – before and after handling contact lenses – and pretty much anytime you have been, or will be, in contact with your mucus membranes i.e. your eyes, mouth and the inside of your nose.
But we also need to be vigilant when handling food; food-borne illness caused by the transmission of microbiological, allergenic, physical and/or chemical contamination either through the consumption of contaminated foods or beverages, contact with animals or their environment or through person-to-person spread, is another area where our lives are regularly put at risk. Fortunately, by sticking to some basic food hygiene rules we can help to prevent ourselves and our families from becoming sick:
Always wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water before handling food and repeat often during food preparation
Avoid cross-contamination – either directly (if raw meat comes into contact with cooked foods) or indirectly (by chopping salad vegetables with a knife that was previously used to chop raw meat)
Cover any cuts with waterproof bandages and do not prepare food for others if you are sick or have a skin infection
Wash fresh vegetables and fruit well with clean water before use to remove potential contaminants from the surface
Keep raw and cooked foods separate to avoid harmful microbes from raw foods spreading to ready-to-eat foods
Prepare and chop food on a clean surface and clean all utensils and surfaces thoroughly after use with hot water and detergent, or in the dishwasher
Never wash raw chicken as the splashing water can spread bacteria around the kitchen
Wash dishcloths, tea towels, hand towels and aprons frequently and at high temperatures
Despite the fact that we have created vaccines to prevent some infections and antibiotics to cure others, we are now encountering germs not so easily killed by antibiotics. As the corona virus has shown us, rather than being reliant on cures, by being more attentive to our hand and home hygiene we can go a long way to protecting ourselves and those we care for, and preventing infections from spreading.