Hands for Hygiene

Hand washing: A simple lapse in this important step can unleash the hounds of hygiene hell, which carry rabid bites along with reverberating barks. But whether it’s singing happy birthday twice over the sink, using the latest technology or a host of soaps, gets and gloves, the bark and the bite of dirty hands can be tamed.

Remember the scene in a Seinfeld episode when the restaurateur leaves the bathroom without washing his hands?

It all starts with Jerry and his date, Audrey, sitting at a table in a restaurant owned by her father, Poppie. After Jerry is introduced, Poppie takes leave for the kitchen, saying; “Don’t fill up on the bread. I’m making you a very special dinner; very special.”

Jerry excuses himself and goes to the bathroom, and while he’s washing his hands, there’s a flush, and out from a stall comes Poppie. “Ah, Jerry, tonight you’re in for a real treat. I’m personally going to prepare the dinner for you and my Audrey,” says Poppie, as he zips up and leaves without washing his hands.

What ensues later in the episode is, of course, hilarious, but in real life, a simple lapse in hygiene can unleash the hounds of hygiene hell, which carry rabid bites along with reverberating barks.

The Hepatitis A Hound

Consider what happened at a Friendly’s restaurant in Arlington, Mass., in the summer of 2004.

According to town health officials, it was discovered that an employee there had been diagnosed with Hepatitis A – a liver disease that is not life-threatening, but highly contagious and can cause flu-like symptoms, jaundice and, in rare instances, more serious liver complications. The illness can be spread through contaminated food or drink if an infected person does not wash his or her hands after using the restroom.

The Arlington Board of Health hosted a three-day clinic to administer immune globulin shots to the nearly 3,000 people who claimed they had eaten at the now-closed restaurant between June 4 and 15, when they may have been exposed to the disease.

Later that month, lawyers from Marler Clark of Seattle, Wash., and Sabra and Aspden of Somerset, Mass., filed the class-action suit against Friendly’s on behalf of plaintiff Frederick C. Foster, a Boston resident, and many others who had been potentially exposed to the illness and would have to receive vaccines.

According to Marler Clark, Foster said he and others had missed work to get the needed inoculation and should be compensated for lost wages, emotional distress and any other medical-related expenses.

Last February, the Middlesex County Superior Court approved a proposed settlement between the two parties, determining that anyone who had received vaccination because they had either eaten food from Friendly’s between June 4 and 15, or been exposed to individuals infected with Hepatitis A from Friendly’s food, would be entitled to file a claim.

If the terms of the settlement are finalized in June, qualifying individuals will receive a lump sum of $200 from Friendly’s, according to Marler Clark. That’s at least $600,000 in damages if 3,000 people are awarded.

And even though that Friendly’s restaurant is closed, it may still have to pay $45,000 in legal fees on top of the $55,000 it has already paid to the Town of Arlington for running the clinics, which includes a $40,000 reimbursement for supplies, the hiring of nurses and overtime pay, and $15,000 for police details.

While the Seinfeld episode and the incident at Friendly’s are essentially retail sector scenarios, effects from blatant disregards for handwashing and hygiene know no boundaries or prejudice.

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