Sometimes we take cleanliness for granted in the United States. In spite of coming in contact with contaminated surfaces, we remain healthy. Yet we all know door knobs, shopping carts, computer keyboards, remote controls, telephones and even magazines in a waiting room, have been touched by many hands, contaminated hands. Touching any of these items and then rubbing your eye or licking a finger to turn a page can transfer enough organisms to make you ill.
Foodborne disease is common and occurs after consuming contaminated foods and drinks. Some foods contain toxins and chemicals that can also make you ill. In 2009 there were a number of foodborne disease outbreaks in Montana including bacterial diarrhea caused by Salmonella and E coli 0157:H7, and Norovirus. Some occurrences were in long-term-care facilities, but many were in community settings. Proper food- handling and hand-washing can prevent bacterial and viral transfer.
Consider the following surfaces that transfer germs that could ruin travel plans:
- Fruit – eat only fruit you peel yourself. Skip the lemon wedge on a drink.
- Salad bars – avoid them! Many hands contaminate serving utensils. Improperly refrigerated items or food warmed for long periods encourages bacterial growth.
- Menus and ketchup bottles – wash your hands after touching them and don’t let them touch your plate or utensils.
- Soap dispensers and bathroom faucets – use a paper towel when you touch them.
- Airliner and other bathrooms – cover seats with a barrier. Use a towel to open all bathroom doors as they tend to be highly contaminated.
- Doors – use a towel or clothing (like a sleeve) to open all doors.
- Drinking water – most US water is safe, but when traveling outside the country, drink only from commercially sealed water or drink containers. Do Not Use Ice in your drinks as it is often contaminated, too.
By thoroughly washing your hands, using lots of soap and water, you can avoid the highly contagious Norovirus stomach flu (the kind that sweeps through cruise ships). Do the same for your children. Remain clear of people who are ill with vomiting and diarrhea. Clean surfaces with soapy water and bleach.
Potlucks and buffets are often sources of foodborne illness. Using utmost care when preparing food for large gatherings and keeping foods properly refrigerated will go a long way toward keeping yourself, your family and friends healthy this summer.
For added protection, carry antibacterial wipes and alcohol-based lotion to purify your hands, when soap and water are not available.
Betty Kuffel MD