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'Wash your hands' signs not just for diner staff

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Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007 10:00 pm

Since August, I have been embarking on a new career of sorts. I agreed to teach two lecture courses at Delta College in culinary arts for the fall semester. This is my first attempt teaching long-term courses and I am finding it very interesting and very challenging at times. My biggest challenge has been finding the energy, motivation and time to put together the materials for the week's lecture while recovering from pneumonia.

Just before my long 10-day break around Labor Day, I noticed a tickle in my throat and not wanting to waste any of my break time, I scheduled a doctor's appointment that day. Needless to say I spent those 10 days and seven more in bed very sick. I was told it would take a good six to seven weeks to fully recover and they weren't kidding. My dear mother-in-law helped to take care of my toddler as well as me and she cleared my calendar of all commitments-including the News-Sentinel, and other appointments, so I wouldn't even be tempted to try and act like I wasn't sick.

Showing the utmost compassion, she did let me keep my hair appointment, and since my medications were so strong, she drove me to the salon. After all, she didn't want me to crash the car and mess up my new hair. Thank you so much, Joan!

One of the appointments that had to be re-scheduled was one I had made months before with the Environmental Health Department. I had been looking forward to this day because they had agreed to let me accompany them while they did their yearly surprise restaurant inspections. I had requested this ride-along to get some assorted up-close visuals and directly applicable accounts of what really goes on behind the kitchen doors that I could share with the students enrolled in my Safety and Sanitation course. Also, the new California Retail Food Code had been released July 1 with some new laws for the retail food establishments to follow.

A safety and sanitation course is required for all culinary students and it is law that at least one person in a retail food establishment successfully pass an approved and accredited food safety certification exam. This should give diners some comfort, but it is the job of the health department to make sure that the establishments are following safe sanitary guidelines and not cutting corners. I would bet that most people have suffered from food poisoning at one point, some without ever realizing and excusing it to a 24-hour stomach bug.

I don't know if foodborne illness outbreaks and product recalls are on the rise or if I am noticing them more now that I have a weekly current events discussion in the food safety course I teach. But with 76 million foodborne illnesses a year within the U.S., I think everyone needs a refresher course in how to prepare and handle food as well as how to properly wash our hands. The recent news release from the Associated Press of findings from the American Society for Microbiology's bathroom observations found that only 77 percent of people actually wash their hands after using the restroom. The bathroom stakeout found 12 percent of women and one-third of men don't bother to lather up before leaving the lavatory. And you thought those signs posted in public restrooms to "wash your hands before returning to work" were just silly regulatory reminders. In reality, frequent hand washing is the single most effective thing people can do to avoid getting sick.

Now that you know the statistics, remember to lather up using hot water, sing a verse of "twinkle, twinkle little star," rinse, then dry before you open the door using a paper towel to turn the handle. Because who knows where the person's hands before you have been.

And while I'm on the subject of sanitation, I invite you to join me next time as I spend a day with the health inspector visiting local eateries.

Lodi resident Nancy Rostomily is a southern girl at heart, who enjoys the art and science of food. She can be reached at



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