Today’s world is built on technological advances. We take so much of it for granted. The latest big buzz is wireless technology but it’s really nothing new. Take, for example ,two small behavioral changes in our lives due to wireless technology. Where once we were confined by the length of the telephone cord connecting the handset to the base, we now lose the handset somewhere in the house and search frantically for it each time it rings. Years ago, if we settled down for the evening in front of the TV, we were content with one channel or had to coax ourselves from the comfort of a favorite chair to change it. The advent of the remote control reduced our effort to a click or two, increasing many a waistline by an inch or two.
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What is important to realize is that wireless technology has indeed modified our behavior. We think and act very differently from previous generations who lived without telegraph, radio, television, wireless phones, and wireless Internet access. Most every aspect of our lives has been touched by wireless technology, and those areas that have not, soon will be.
When it comes to our food supply, wireless is already in use in multiple areas. For example, RFID tag systems are fast becoming commonplace in animal control—tracking an animal from birth all the way to the retail market.
It is only natural then, that the impact of wireless technology filter down to those day-to-day functions like hand washing, which play such a critical role in food safety. Before we see how this is happening, let’s examine the issue of hand washing performance and its effect on food safety.
Hand Washing, Foodborne Illness and Education
Proper hand washing has long been recognized as critical to the reduction of foodborne illness. We have all heard and read the statistics. Food service risk managers and corporate management are familiar not only with the hazards of poor hand hygiene, but the skyrocketing costs of illnesses attributed to foodborne infection that may result. Containment, correction and insurance can lead to a financial demise. Perhaps even more deadly to the bottom line is the public relations nightmare that ensues when an outbreak of infection is traced back to improper hand hygiene.
On occasion the subject is highlighted in the nightly news when, for example, an outbreak of foodborne illness occurs because an employee in a quick service restaurant did not properly wash his or her hands. Likewise, as topics such as an avian flu pandemic become weekly news items for the general consumption, the public becomes more aware of the necessity of good hand hygiene.
In health care facilities where proper hand washing is just as critical as food service, legislation that requires the collection and reporting of infection rates is currently under consideration in at least 31 states and already enacted in seven states. This legislation grants public access enabling us to make more informed decisions when choosing where we want to receive care. The goal is to help consumers find the best quality care by promoting public disclosure of hospital infection rates. If hospitals disclose this key information, consumers and employers can select the safest hospitals; competition among hospitals will quickly force the worst to improve.
If we were to substitute the words “food service” for “health care” and “foodborne illness” for “hospital-acquired infections” in the Conclusion of the July 2005 Research Brief released by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, it would read:
Accurate and complete data collections along with dissemination of information to all stakeholders are essential components of food service improvement initiatives. Reducing foodborne illness is imperative to reducing food service costs for consumers…and the food services themselves and to improving the quality of service and quality of life.