Originally Published: June 16, 2011 4:25 p.m.
When I first met my wife in high school it didn't take long for her to figure out that I struggled with mysophobia.
Mysophobia is a term used to describe an unreasonable fear of contamination, germs, dirt or filth. This phobia is sometimes referred to as germophobia.
Those who are close to me know that after nearly 30 years of marriage my wife still tolerates my obsessive hand-washing and keeping sterile wipes in my pocket, car, desk or nightstand.
Over the years I have learned to suppress some of the outward behaviors that reflect the dread I feel, but inside I am always keenly aware of where my hands have been, and how long it's been since I washed them.
There are times when I am in a public restroom and I will see someone wash their hands and then open the exit door with a paper towel. This makes me feel a little more normal, but I do this with almost every door or handle in my path.
I carry my own pen in my pocket every day to avoid touching pens in stores. I hold my breath when someone walking by sneezes or coughs. If they are standing near me and I have no imminent escape I stop breathing for as long as I possibly can, and then I'll only suck in the smallest wisp of air from what I deem to be the safest cubic inch of oxygen in the shared space.
I used to joke with friends at church that I was justified in my behavior because of what the Bible teaches in Psalms 24: 3-4, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands..."
Ok, admittedly there is a little more to that scripture, but I still think clean hands are seraphic. (In full it reads, ...He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.)
The Burger Place
Now, here is what prompted this blog entry. Not long ago I was at a fast food restaurant in Prescott Valley with my family. As I was washing my hands I watched a uniformed employee come out of the toilet stall and exit without washing his hands. Because the bathroom door was swung open I exited at the same time (another mysophobe trick). I watched this teenaged employee go behind the counter and start scooping up fries and placing food orders into bags for waiting customers.
I cannot fully describe how I felt and what was going through my mind about the food my wife and I had just ordered. I immediately informed the manager and received an apology, but the ramifications continue to haunt me.
This week I became aware of a blog campaign by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods' Home Food Safety program. The campaign is to raise awareness about the seriousness of foodborne illness and to provide solutions for easily and safely handling food.
As you probably guessed, the number one safety measure is proper hand washing. But the key word here is "proper." When done correctly this action can eliminate nearly 50 percent of all cases of foodborne illness. It can also significantly reduce the spread of the common cold and flu.
Many people think they have washed their hands. But unless you are following the 4 guidelines below, you may just be getting them wet. Especially take note of #4 and start watching how others wash their hands, especially people who work at restaurants.
When You Wash:
- Hands should be washed in warm, soapy water before preparing foods and after handling raw meat, poultry and seafood.
- Always wash your hands front and back up to your wrists, between fingers and under fingernails.
- Dry hands with disposable paper towels, clean cloth towels or air dry.
- Sing two choruses of "Happy Birthday" while you lather up - cleaning your hands for 20 seconds.
Please share these guidelines with your family -- or if you happen to be a fast food restaurant manager in Prescott Valley, please share this with your employees.
Now I will throw in #5:
- PLEASE repeat 1-4 if you do any of the following:
~ Use the restroom
~ Change a diaper
~ Cough or sneeze
~ Handle garbage, dirty dishes
~ Smoke a cigarette
~ Pet animals
~ Use the phone
~ Touch face, hair, body, other people
~ Touch a cut or sore
~ Clean or touch dirty laundry
~ After switching food prep tasks, such as handling raw meat and then cutting vegetables
For more food safety tips visit: www.homefoodsafety.org