Do You Want Diarrhea? Cuz That’s How You Get Diarrhea.

A strange phenomenon keeps happening no matter where I go. It would seem that some days I am on my own planet when it comes to matters of sanitation. I have a pretty strict rule, really the only “rule” per se, when you enter my kitchen: wash your hands. However, I have been called into question regarding this matter quite recently. Someone even added that “it’s actually healthier to not wash your hands as often.” I’m not even sure how to respond to that statement. So…many…responses…

You see, some very, very, very simple practices would prove extremely beneficial in our society. The first and foremost rule of preventing the spread of diseases, viruses, and various other forms of germs is HAND WASHING. It’s so not difficult, yet so many people will spend more time arguing against doing it than it would take to do it 10 times. I’ve been in public restrooms where I have heard a grown woman flush, then leave without washing. I’ve seen grown people sneeze into their hands and simply wipe them off on their pants. These dirty-handed people are all around us. They are there to provide a professional, warm handshake when you greet them too. They are touching the same doorknob you touched on the way to pick up your sandwich in the breakroom. Yummy? Nope.

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I’ve been called a “germaphobe” and accused of trying to “live in a bubble.” However, it is utterly disturbing to me that this (sanitation in general) is even up for debate. I know, I know…there are always those who argue “you have to be exposed to some germs to develop your immune system.” Do you really think there aren’t 10,000 other ways we are exposed to germs? They’re in the air for crying out loud. All I’m saying is that washing your hands after you’ve wiped your rear wouldn’t be all that much effort and would be far less disgusting to me.   Maybe I’m the only one; if so, I rather enjoy my hand-washing island where I have a reduced risk of contracting hepatitis A from someones nasty just-wiped-my-ass-then-made-your-sandwich hands.

Furthermore, I must mention the topic of food safety. Here are some take-home messages to summarize the importance of proper kitchen sanitation.

  • Your leftovers have a fridge life of about 4, maybe 5, days.
    • People LOVE to argue this one. “I eat anything; hasn’t killed me yet! Herherherherheeeee!”
    • All it will take is one bout of foodborne pathogenic diarrhea to make you decide to take this rule seriously.
    • Just because your food looks ok, smells ok, or even tastes ok doesn’t mean that it isn’t harboring enough harmful bacteria to make you violently ill.
  • The time-frame for restaurant leftovers is even shorter.
    • I mean think about it: the food sat on the counter for a bit before you got your order.
    • Then you picked at the food for a while as you conversed and enjoyed your meal.
    • Then you waited for the doggie bag container.
    • Then you waited for the check.
    • Then you had to drive some distance home.
    • Then you almost forgot to put the food in the fridge when you got home.
    • Ultimately that food sat out for a pretty long time.
    • I would suggest only holding restaurant leftovers 1 or 2 days at best.
  • The temperatures foods must reach for proper cooking and reheating are actually important.
    • When I was a kid, we thawed the frozen hamburger on the kitchen counter ALL DAY so it would be ready for dinner that night.
    • Again, the argument I hear all too often is “I did that my whole life and I didn’t die.”
    • Well, at least the hamburger I had as a kid came from the locker down the street, and the cow they processed came from the neighbor down the road. Far less people handled it, which means far less opportunity for pathogens to enter the picture.
    • Do you know where your meat came from? Do you know how many steps between cow to you or chicken to you took place? Was the truck that hauled it to the grocery store chilled properly? Did someone have that package of beef in his grocery cart for an hour before deciding against purchasing it and then placing it back in the meat case for you to buy?
    • A meat thermometer costs anywhere from $1 to $50 depending on how fancy you want to get. You can spend very little to get adequacy in this case.
    • Call me crazy, but don’t call me to pick up Immodium or new underwear for you if you decide that you’re too cool for a meat thermometer.
    • Here is a handy little food safety temperature chart you can print and tape inside your kitchen cupboard if you’d like.
  • On a similar note, there are only a few safe ways to thaw your food.
    • The microwave is safe for thawing smaller cuts of meat, such as steaks or chicken breasts. Larger cuts like roasts or whole chickens should not be thawed in the microwave.
    • Cold water, not hot or warm water, can be used to submerge your meat in the sink or in a tub. The meat should be either of the vacuum-sealed variety or otherwise completely airtight and encased. The water must be changed periodically. This method works well during Thanksgiving when you realize your turkey didn’t get completely thawed in the fridge.
    • The fridge is a great way to thaw any cut of meat, but requires some forethought. If you are thawing your giant Thanksgiving turkey, you might have to carve out some fridge space at least 5 days in advance. For a whole chicken or beef roast for Sunday dinner, I’d take that little guy out at least 3 days in advance. Hamburger or chicken pieces take 2-3 days to mostly thaw.
  • Do not cook frozen roasts or similar whole cuts of meat in the slow-cooker.
    • I know, there it is again: “but I’ve always done that and I haven’t died yet!”
    • A large, frozen roast or similar product stays at an unsafe temperature too long if it is being slow-cooked in an appliance. I wouldn’t recommend this practice in the oven either if you ask me.
    • You can put frozen chicken or beef or other meat pieces in the slow-cooker. The difference is that those smaller cuts can reach a safe temperature much faster than the bigger hunks.
  • Perishable food can and should only be held at room temperature for 2 hours max.
    • I simply cannot believe how much this rule gets violated. Everyone to whom I mention this tends to laugh out loud and poke fun at the germaphobe dietitian.
    • I’ve seen healthcare professionals leave lunch potluck fare out all day, then pack it up, then eat it 3 days later.
    • Typically what happens is someone gets a mild case of food poisoning, but calls it “the 24-hour flu” or something ridiculous because they can’t fathom that it is food borne illness, for sure.  Sorry, not sorry. You ate it.

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I will digress for now; I think you get the point. It takes very minimal effort to practice some simple methods of sanitation that can prevent some pretty serious illnesses. While some think it is cute and funny to drink from a water bottle that hasn’t been washed in 2 weeks or to eat that bloody hamburger, I do not.

Keep in mind that while many of us have a tough immune system, many do not. Those who are most vulnerable include little kids, pregnant women,old people, people recovering from cancer treatment, etc. I will never, ever forget an experience I had while doing a rotation in the pediatric intensive care unit during my dietetic internship. A round of applause thundered through the halls one day. I thought that was odd until one of the nurses told me they were clapping because a little 5-year-old boy had finally peed. You might think that is weird except several of his organs had been failing just before that, including his kidneys. He hadn’t peed in weeks due to requiring dialysis to pick up the slack his kidneys weren’t able to do. He was experiencing this acute organ failure because he had eaten an undercooked hamburger that was pink in the middle. Not so cute and funny when it’s framed like that, eh?

We can’t prevent every single bad germ from entering our little worlds and giving us a cold or the runs. But we can put forth some super simple methods, such as hand washing and proper food handling, that can truly reduce the likelihood of us getting sick.

Keep it classy – wash your hands. And sneeze into your elbow for goodness sake.

xoxo – Casey

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One thought on “Do You Want Diarrhea? Cuz That’s How You Get Diarrhea.

  1. Danielle Bauer

    Yes! Hand washing is so important! People would leave the nursery after changing a diaper and not wash their hands!!

    Like

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