Last Friday, I’m standing at the handwash sink in the women’s restroom at the Montage Hotel in Laguna Beach, when in the reflection of the mirror, I see a woman exit a stall, skip the handwash sink and leave the bathroom without washing her hands. I’m in shock, thinking I need to use the door handle, she just touched, to leave the restroom. Is handwashing a lost behaviour? In my years, I’ve witnessed this poor hygiene behaviour before, however with all the media coverage of the spread of covid-19, why did this woman not wash her hands?

Background on how I ended up at the beautiful Montage Hotel on Friday. My colleague/friend from California, Charlie Rainey heard I was still local following the last-minute postponement of the Expo West conference. After working all day in Palm Springs, she generously treated me to a road-trip to Laguna Beach (her hometown) before I flew home on Saturday. We walked the beach, enjoyed a drink, a bite & the view from the Montage Hotel and then a quick stop at The Drake to appreciate the vibe and music. A lovely way to end the trip.

Now back to the importance of handwashing.

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Proper Hygiene to Decrease Contamination

Earlier in my career, I spent a decade as a Food Safety and HACCP facilitator training the food industry in standard operating procedures and critical control points which included personal hygiene practices. During one of the training sessions in the late 1990s, I researched the norovirus, also known as “cruise ship virus”. This brought to light that businesses can put in several food safety measures; however, both their staff and customers must be diligent in practising proper hygiene protocols to decrease the risk of contamination.

I travel frequently, for both business and pleasure. Hygiene in planes, trains, subways and ships is critical. On the travel home from my Ireland trip in 2018, I had to connect via Germany. On the new flight, the man sitting beside me started picking his nose and wiping it on the armrest we shared. I asked him to stop picking his nose, offered him a Kleenex, used a Lysol wipe to clean the armrest and at no time did he apologize or show a level awareness of his poor personal hygiene practice. I ask you – Is handwashing a lost behaviour? And more generally, what about personal hygiene practices?

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Health and Handwashing

Handwashing is one of the easiest and best ways to protect yourself, your family, friends and co-workers from spreading germs and getting sick! For the woman in the bathroom in Laguna Beach and the man on the flight from Germany, let’s re-examine the five simple steps to properly wash your hands.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, warm running water.
  2. Apply soap, lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. My tip for 20 seconds from all those years as Food  Safety trainer: Sing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Handwashing with soap and warm water is the preferred method, however using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used when handwashing facilities are not available. Use hand rubs according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure your hands are dry, as wet hands will dilute the product.

Final Thoughts

It’s an interesting time as we navigate covid-19 globally. It’s a much different era from 2003 and the SARS crisis. However, as members of the public, proper handwashing is the simplest behaviour to protect yourself and the people around you, from not only this new virus, but other germs and contamination. Practice proper handwashing yourself and encourage everyone you know to wash their hands often.

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