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Looking for Creative Ways Online to Get Their Hands Washed

Iowa State University's food safety Web site emphasizes information on hand washing documented in research-based findings.

Generations of admonitions haven’t always been able to get across the simple message: wash hands before dining. They’re not giving up at Iowa State University where the food safety Web site includes a section devoted to the topic.

The page with the theme of “Did You Wash ‘Em?” highlights one of many topics covered on the site at with the support of the Food Safety Consortium. As with all the information on the site, the hand-washing content is research based.

“This was targeted to multiple audiences, both consumers as well as retail food services,” said Catherine Strohbehn, an ISU Extension specialist in hotel, restaurant and institutional management who supervises the site.

ISU researchers published their findings on hand-washing habits in the Journal of Food Protection based on observed behaviors in different sectors of the retail food service industry: child care, assisted living, schools and restaurants.

“What we’re hoping to do with the Web page is synergize so that we’ve got different avenues to disseminate the information from the research and make it useful and relevant to practitioners,” Strohbehn said.

The hand-washing section of the site includes documents and presentations covering the myths about hand washing (one myth is that hot water is necessary, but it’s not; it’s the soap that makes the difference), illustrations showing the proper way to wash hands, a fact sheet about soiled hands and illness, the relationship between viruses and unclean hands, and even an audio version of a public service announcement featuring a high school choir singing a reminder to wash hands after playing with animals. A Yuck Photo Gallery (in English and Spanish) shows microbial growth after hands have touched soiled surfaces.

Food defense, a vital new area of concern for food processors, is also a key component on the site. It features links to several federal agency pages with information on procedures that plants must follow and that retail operations should know.

Strohbehn plans to continue looking for ways to improve the popular food safety lessons page that cover dangerous microorganisms, consumer control points (such as purchasing, storing, preparing, cooking, serving and handling leftovers) and finding the temperature danger zone for foods. The lessons are linked to online quizzes that test knowledge of the topics just covered.

“I’d like to get a better sense of who’s taking those quizzes – the demographics and the pass rate – to evaluate the effectiveness of those as a learning tool,” Strohbehn said. “We’ve learned from feedback that a lot of family consumer science education teachers are using those in their classroom.”

The site hosts a few video podcasts that demonstrate proper food safety procedures for food service operators to follow. They cover time and temperature issues, cleaning and sanitizing methods and health and hygiene problems. They’re informative industry-oriented productions of a few minutes each. However, they didn’t appear to attract the interest of the college students whom Strohbehn asked to review the videos.

“The bottom line was the students liked the convenience of the Web delivery of the video,” Strohbehn said. “The takeaway was it was boring because it wasn’t ‘edutainment.’ We need to be doing more ‘edutainment.’”

Dave Edmark | Newswise Science News
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