Eeks! Wash your hands!

Singapore December 15th, 2007

Some weeks ago, someone wrote to the Straits Times forum about people not washing their hands after finishing their business at the toilets. I wasn’t sure if this was before or after the Prima Deli incident, but apparently, this got Straits Times going around to toilets to check out the behaviour of people after they are done with their business.

Somehow, I don’t know how they manage to stalk people in the toilets without having toilet users scream "gay!!!". Haha… the thought of it is hilarious =P

STUDENT Judia Ngo, 21, walks out of the toilet cubicle, looks into the mirror and fixes her hair.

She then leaves the loo – without doing what mothers have always reminded their children to do: Wash your hands!

Her reasoning: Her hands did not come into contact with faecal matter and are clean.

Miss Ngo is not the only one who thinks this way.

The Sunday Times staked out 18 public toilets – in shopping centres, foodcourts and hawker centres – to flush out the truth about hand-washing.

A dirty secret was uncovered: One in 10 toilet-goers did not wash his hands.

Some just wiped their hands on handkerchiefs while others said they washed only after ‘big business’ and ‘never thought of washing after urinating’.

In all, 75 out of 792 people were spotted not washing up.

But dirty hands carrying just a few germs could still cause big problems.

Since Nov 23, at least 153 people have come down with food poisoning after eating PrimaDeli bakery’s chocolate cakes.

At least eight of them have since tested positive for salmonella enteritidis which causes fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Salmonella can be spread by food handlers with dirty hands. Eight of PrimaDeli’s workers have tested positive for the strain.

This episode prompted letters to The Straits Times Forum about the shocking number of tertiary students who merely ‘wetted their hands under the tap and did not use soap’.

With additional reporting on Sunday Times

STUDENT Judia Ngo, 21, walks out of the toilet cubicle, looks into the mirror and fixes her hair.

She then leaves the loo – without doing what mothers have always reminded their children to do: Wash your hands!

Her reasoning: Her hands did not come into contact with faecal matter and are clean.

Miss Ngo is not the only one who thinks this way.

The Sunday Times staked out 18 public toilets – in shopping centres, foodcourts and hawker centres – to flush out the truth about hand-washing.

A dirty secret was uncovered: One in 10 toilet-goers did not wash his hands.

Some just wiped their hands on handkerchiefs while others said they washed only after ‘big business’ and ‘never thought of washing after urinating’.

In all, 75 out of 792 people were spotted not washing up.

But dirty hands carrying just a few germs could still cause big problems.

Since Nov 23, at least 153 people have come down with food poisoning after eating PrimaDeli bakery’s chocolate cakes.

At least eight of them have since tested positive for salmonella enteritidis which causes fever, diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Salmonella can be spread by food handlers with dirty hands. Eight of PrimaDeli’s workers have tested positive for the strain.

This episode prompted letters to The Straits Times Forum about the shocking number of tertiary students who merely ‘wetted their hands under the tap and did not use soap’.

Freelance writer Chua Siew Gek, observed that more than 40 per cent of tertiary students she escorted to the restroom during an exam did not wash their hands.

Those caught dry-handed by The Sunday Times ranged from housewives to undergraduates, and from food preparation staff to professionals, from both genders.

Common reasons given for not washing their hands include: ‘We are in a hurry’, ‘It is unnecessary’ or ‘We’re carrying too many things’.

An 83-year-old retired cook wetted only one hand because she claimed her clean hand had been clutching her bag the whole time.

A 71-year-old retiree, who wanted to be known only as Mr Quek, not only failed to wash his hands in a hawker centre toilet, but also blew his nose and sat down to a hearty meal of rojak immediately afterwards.

Even those who washed their hands did not do so thoroughly: Out of the 717 who were observed washing their hands, only 134 used soap and 66 washed only one hand.

Student Cherie Goh, 20, said: ‘It’s a waste of time to use soap and sometimes I don’t like the smell that common restroom soap leaves on my hands.’

Food handlers were no better. Out of the 29 observed, 21 washed their hands, but 14 of them did not bother to use soap. Eight did not wash their hands at all.

Said chicken wings seller Bao Juan, 39: ‘If I take a dump, I use soap. But if it’s a ‘small one’, I don’t. I’m not afraid of getting sick because I have never fallen sick.’

A food and beverage worker, who wanted to be known only as Vivian, did not bother with the taps. She said: ‘I use tissue to touch the flush in the toilet and I wipe my hands with my own wet tissues inside the cubicle.’

A fast-food restaurant employee, who wanted to be known only as Madam Ko, shook the fingers of one hand under the tap for a mere two seconds because she had used the ‘hand sanitiser in the restaurant already’.

But those who are not careful can find themselves in hot water – fast.

High-temperature cooking or refrigeration can kill germs or slow their growth rate, but any germs ingested can reproduce in the gut and cause serious illness.

Associate Professor Goh Lee Gan from the National University of Singapore’s community, occupational and family medicine department, said hand-washing reduces the occurrence of diarrhoea by 50 per cent.

Soap helps to emulsify grease that water cannot effectively remove, he added.

‘If left unchecked, germs on the hands can contaminate food and multiply in whichever food medium it is deposited on,’ he said.

‘Not washing because one thinks there is no contact with dirt is unsafe… How do you know your hand did not accidentally get contaminated, or that faecal matter did not soak through the tissue?’

To help change such dirty habits, the Restroom Association of Singapore will be rolling out a public education programme next year, which includes roadshows and talks in the heartland.

It has distributed 2,000 posters to schools and public toilets on the correct way to wash hands.

And sales assistant Shamyn Toh, is heeding such advice.

The 16-year-old, who washes her hands with soap each time she uses the toilet, said: ‘I cannot stand the thought of dirt all over me. I think it’s hygienic and only right to wash my hands.’

limjess@sph.com.sg

shulis@sph.com.sg

zhenyang@sph.com.sg

Article obtained from straitstimes.com on 15th December 2007



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