Importance of hand-washing: A tale of two diseases


The recent attention to the outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus serves as an excellent reminder that simple actions can positively impact healthy adults as well as vulnerable populations, such as older adults, infants, children, and those with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems.

The most basic defense is proper hand-washing. For the coronavirus, the CDC recommends residents to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Hand-washing is critical not only in minimizing the spread of illness and disease but also in keeping food safe and reducing food-borne illnesses. Residents should wash their hands before and after eating, and farm workers should also follow farm safety guidelines for hand-washing.

In keeping with food safety issues, anyone preparing food also should wash all produce prior to serving or consuming. The ongoing concerns of rat lungworm disease across the state has prompted a renewed interest in produce washing practices. Rat lungworm disease can infect humans through ingestion of raw vegetables contaminated with the rat lungworm larvae, which means that produce should be examined thoroughly prior to consumption. Preparing fresh produce begins with hand-washing then separating and rinsing all produce. It also is important to clean and sanitize food contact surfaces, such as tables, countertops or other food prep areas.

Good, safe food handling and hygiene practices are important all the time and occasional reminders can help protect both healthy and at-risk individuals. The following are some hand-washing reminders from University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension.

Wash your hands:

• Before and after you eat.

• Before, during and after preparing food.

• After you use the bathroom.

• After handling animals or animal waste — including pets.

• After playing or working outside.

• After changing diapers or handling a baby’s bottom.

• Anytime your hands are dirty.

On the farm or in food production areas, wash:

• Before entering and returning to the field or the packing line.

• Before touching clean produce.

• Before putting on new gloves.

• After working with soil.

• After disposing of rotten produce.

• After handling garbage.

• After smoking or doing other activities that dirty your hands.

• After touching bare human body parts.

• After handling animals and animal waste.

The following are some produce washing reminders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Inspect produce for obvious signs of soil or damage. Prior to cutting, slicing or dicing, cut away affected areas or do not use.

Wash produce before serving/cutting using continuous running water and chemical disinfectants.

Do not:

• Soak produce or store in standing water.

• Rewash packaged produce labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed.”

Wash thoroughly with hot soapy water:

• All equipment.

• Utensils.

• Food contact surfaces.

For those interested in exploring the coronavirus or rat lungworm disease in more detail, choose reputable entities such as university and government websites.

For the cornoavirus, go to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2019 Novel Coronavirus website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html or John’s Hopkins University Dashboard at gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6.

Rat lungworm resources can be found at UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources Farm Food Safety Rat Lungworm Disease webpage at manoa.hawaii.edu/ctahr/farmfoodsafety/rat-lungworm/.

Protect you and your loved ones by practicing proper hand and produce washing.

* Heather Greenwood-Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Aging and Intergenerational Programs. Today’s column was written jointly with Nancy Ooki, 4-H and youth development agent and statewide coordinator for Extension Disaster Education Network UH-CTAHR Extension. Aging Matters covers topics of interest to older adults and their families in Maui County and appears on the third Saturday of each month.


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