Safety & HCM Post

Food Service: The History of Handwashing

Workers who handle and prepare food must have clean hands. But invite workers to a lecture on the importance of handwashing, and you can expect rolled eyes and sarcastic zings like “coming mommy.” So how do safety trainers in food services—or any industry, for that matter—deliver the message about handwashing without coming across like a mother hen? Here’s a zesty number that you can use to break the ice. Tell your workers where the whole idea of handwashing came about.

The History of Handwashing

Human beings have been washing their hands for thousands of years. But acceptance of the practice took a long time. Here are some highlights from the history of hand washing:

c. 1500 B.C.: The Old Testament describes a strict code of sanitation created by Moses for the Hebrews.

1100 AD: In one of the first references to the practice, the Egyptian physician Moses ben Maimon writes: “I dismount my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients” And: “Never forget to wash your hands after having touched a sick person.”

1843: Harvard professor Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, (father of the famous Supreme Court Justice) publishes an essay on proper hand hygiene for doctors. But his colleagues greet it with scorn.

1847: Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis requires the staff of his Vienna hospital to wash their hands in a mixture of chlorine and water before and after seeing patients. Patient mortality rates drop from 12 to 3 percent within six months. But the doctors complain, the practice is dropped and poor Dr. Semmelweis gets fired for his troubles.

1879: At a seminar at the Academy of Medicine in Paris on the high rate of deaths to mothers in child birth, a man in the audience raises his hand and shouts in protest at the speaker: “The thing that kills women with [childbirth fever]… is you doctors that carry deadly microbes from sick women to healthy ones.” The man is shouted down. His name: Louis Pasteur, inventor of pasteurization and the scientist who would help prove that germs cause disease.

1910: Dr. Josephine Baker starts a program to teach hygiene to child care providers in New York City. Thirty physicians send a petition to the Mayor protesting that the practice “is ruining the medical profession by… keeping babies well.”

Bongarde Editorial

Bongarde Editorial

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