• Watch out for germs if you hot desk

    Should I eat at my Desk?

    I eat at my desk – we all do it don’t we?

    I know I shouldn’t eat at my desk, what with Psychologists, Nutritionists and other health professionals telling us it’s bad. We should get out and have a walk, clear our minds, get some exercise, but are there any other things to think about?

    I have carried out a number of surveys over the years where we have swabbed desks, keyboards and (computer) mice to find unsavoury levels of bacteria on surfaces. Of course, the things to watch out for are pathogens, such as E.coli O157, norovirus and cold and flu viruses, which can collect on surfaces if people carrying the organisms don’t wash their hands.

    The Journey to the Centre of the Toilet!

    Imagine the journey of pathogens from hands that have not been washed after using the toilet. They go to your desk via the kitchen, fridge, kettle, cup cupboard, coffee and sugar containers, milk bottle, stair rail and finally arrive at your ‘lunch table’.

    The 2nd Health Protection Agency Infectious Intestinal Diseases Report estimates that 16% of us carry norovirus (many of us would not have had any symptoms so wouldn’t know). If we don’t wash our hands after using the toilet, then this can be carried to other places, including the office desk if we are hot-desking.

    So what can we do to help prevent the spread of disease and make the office a nicer place (even if we don’t eat at our desks)?

    Watch this video for more information about the journey of the germ.

    Top tips for office hygiene:

    • Wash hands after using the toilet
    • Clean your desk using an anti-bacterial or anti-viral product if you are hot-desking and particularly if you have a cold
    • Dispose of tissues after use – don’t leave them on the desk!
    • Use anti-viral hand gel
    • If you have to eat at your desk – wash your hands before you eat if you desk-share, move the keyboard away to remove crumbs – and clean up afterwards!
    • If you use the office fridge, remove any out of date food (before it walks out on its own)!

    How Clean is your Desk?

    A little test – tip your keyboard upside down and tap lightly – what comes out? Of course you can’t see the germs, but this may give you an idea of dirt levels. If you want to test the cleanliness more scientifically, contact me and we can arrange for some swabbing!

    One issue that we have found that can arise from desk lunching in offices is that if people spill crumbs and keep food in their desks, it can encourage mice and coackroaches – be warned!

    As for whether it is healthy, apart from the germ issue, many people use their work computer to do on-line shopping or follow social media in their lunch break, so whilst not actually moving around, at least they are getting a break from work!

    If your office is on an industrial estate with a busy road next door, it can’t be very tempting to get outside and have a walk.

    If possible, I am sure it is healthier to get out for a while for a break, but my guess is that after the brisk walk we should encourage, workers will still be going back to their desks for a cup of tea and their sandwich!

    However, I will leave that to the psychologists to mull over.

  • Some restaurants may serve pink burgers, but cook well at home

    Burgers Again

    The burger conundrum continues. Today is National Burger Day, and the Food Standards Agency is rightfully explaining to consumers why they need to cook a burger all the way through. Burgers are not like steak where just the outside surface could be contaminated with bacteria such as E. coli (and can be cooked off, leaving the middle rare). Burger meat is made from the outside and inside surfaces all minced up together, making the inside of a burger potentially contaminated.

    Read more

  • Campylobacter: freezing chicken

    Freezing Campylobacter

    The newspapers are awash with articles today about how freezing chicken can kill Campylobacter off – this would certainly be welcome news as this organism causes the highest levels of bacterial food poisoning every year.

    Key facts about Chicken and Campylobacter from the Food Standards Agency are:

    • 72,000 confirmed cases per year, possibly reflecting over 500,000 cases as many are unreported
    • 100 deaths per year
    • £900 million cost to the UK economy
    • Around 60% of fresh chicken has been found to be contaminated with Campylobacter

    A study carried out for the Food Standards Agency on whether freezing chicken livers helped to reduce levels of Campylobacter showed that there was a decrease, after freezing but importantly it did not eliminate the bacteria. It was concluded that it would be beneficial in terms of reducing infection if manufacturers froze chicken livers.

    If we follow the advice reported in the Daily Mail and other newspapers to freeze chicken at home, (nothing posted yet on the Food Standards Agency or Public Health England) there is a good chance that this will reduce the levels of Campylobacter in our chicken, which could help reduce infection levels, but it will not banish the bug completely.

    The important thing then is to make sure that everyone still treats chicken as though it is contaminated – because it might be! This means that the following controls are essential:

    • Defrost it thoroughly, preferably at the bottom shelf of the fridge in a deep dish to catch the drip
    • Cook to 75°C in the centre of the thickest part of the chicken (not inside the cavity if it is whole). Use a disinfected (use anti bad spray or boiling water) thermometer to check
    • Sanitise any surfaces that may have been touched by the chicken or your dirty hands – use an anti-bacterial spray
    • Clean your hands – 20 seconds with soap!


  • Going to the Toilet

    How Easy is Going to the Toilet?

    I have just got up from my desk to visit the toilet about 5m away – how simple; when I returned to my desk, after washing my hands with nice soap, warm water and paper towels, I read with interest the Truckers’ Toilets UK newsletter.Humidification....

    Spare a moment to think of how awful it must be to be on the road and need the toilet – particularly if you have to park up a massive truck first, even if you can find a toilet. then consider all the other people who don’t have easy access to a clean toilet and wash basin: postmen / women, couriers, bike couriers, people carrying out surveys on the streets – the list goes on.The difficulties that arise from this are more than just inconvenience:

    • Urinary infections and bowel issues because of “holding it in”
    • Going to the loo on the side of the road or in alley ways – public health issues, nuisance to others, embarrassment
    • Not being able to wash your hands – infection risks when eating
    • Stress and anxiety

    So if you get a delivery driver who asks to use the loo – I hope you will allow them to use yours. Apparently many companies don’t allow it.


  • We are What we Eat – but what are we eating?

    We are what we eat

    This week I co-chaired a conference at the Royal Society For Public Health on the Elliott review which concerned food fraud and food security, and listened to Professor Elliott talking about the steps we will be taking to ensure that our food supply is safe and secure.

    I remember that some of the comments during the Horsemeat scandal centred around the fact that the meat itself was not harmful – it was just horse instead of beef. Some people, we were told, are happy to eat horse. This reminds me of a case where I was an expert, and the defence said that it was OK to have live slugs in the (rather dirty) ice machine as people in China ate them! The fact is, if we buy beef, we expect beef. If we buy a gin and tonic, we don’t expect slugs in it. But of perhaps even more importance is the fact that the people who are substituting one food for another will have absolutely no interest in its safety. These people who adulterate food deliberately are criminals, and history has shown us, with milk in China and Oil in Spain, that sometimes adulteration can have very severe consequences.

    Another point is that health is not merely the absence of disease; the World Health Organisation expands on this and says that it includes physical, mental and social well-being. So where pork is put in halal meat, or beef is in vegetarian meals, then the harm to the individual may be different to being poisoned, but it is nevertheless an issue and could be extremely upsetting.Recently  was asked to comment on ome photographs that had been posted on Jonathan Vernon Smith’s Facebook page by a listener to his consumer show who had purchased a bucket of fried chicken. Look away now if you have a sensitive disposition!

    suspect chicken take away 3Food Adulteration - what is this? suspect chicken take-away











    It turns out the food is not a mouse, mouse foetus, brain or any of the other things that may spring to mind, but a chicken lung. This doesn’t alter the fact that the person eating the chicken felt sick, and one person looking at the pictures said they had actually been sick. It may not have caused harm, but when you buy a bucket of breaded chicken, it is not what you expect. My question was – was it deliberately added? Of course chicken lungs are much cheaper than chicken breast or legs. Obviously these are questions for the caterer, the Environmental Health Department and the supplier as well.

    So one thing I would caution you about – if food is too cheap, take care – it may not be what it says it is…..

  • Hand Washing – a Tale of Two Cities and Two Worlds

    Hotel luxury bathroom with soap and two wash basinsIn January 2012 I had the disturbing experience of staying in a world class luxury hotel in Cape Town and then visiting a township less than 10 miles away where the occupants lived in abject poverty.

    In my hotel room I had two wash basins, a separate shower, an enormous bath and a huge collection of towels, shampoo bottles and bars of soap, all of which were replaced as soon as I had used them once.

    Diarrhoea causes around 1.5 million children to die each year (UNICEF / WHO, 2009) and one of the most cost-effective interventions is hand washing with soap. In the local township, a project to improve hygiene and hand washing had been undertaken by Dettol which had shown through interventions of educational programmes, cascade training and provision of soap and cleaning materials, that there had been a significant decrease in morbidity. There are plenty of other studies giving the same evidence of the benefits of hand washing.

    Hand Washing Station in South African Township

    In the townships where there was no running water, the women in the programme had rigged up an ingenious washing station with a pair of old tights to hold the soap and an old 2L fizzy drinks container with water and a tube coming out of the top. Squeeze the bottle, water comes out, use the soap and squeeze again for more water and a final rinse. So hygienic and simple – a no-touch system after the washing process and air dry in the hot sun.

    One aspect of changing behaviour is that people will undertake some form of cost-benefit analysis – what is in it for them? do the benefits outweigh the cost? One thing that struck me was how much trouble it was to wash your hands when there is no running water or soap, and yet in countries where these things are in abundance, a high percentage of the population fails to wash their hands after using the toilet.

    In the townships, a main driver for the women to implement change of behaviour for themselves and their families was not just the threat of disease, it was the fact that to get to a hospital with a sick child could involve a 4 hour walk, where rape was a likely consequence on the way; even when they arrived, if the hospital had seen its quota of patients that day, then they faced a return trip with equal perils and would need to repeat the whole thing the next day.

    We live in a culture in the developed world where we have become complacent – we think we are invincible – not likely to get ill, or if we do we have confidence in the antibiotics that for so long have saved us from severe illness or death from infectious diseases. But things are changing -more and more antibiotic resistant organisms are emerging, not only in hospitals but throughout the community and at the same time fewer new antibiotics are being created. Basic hygiene skills will be needed even more than ever.

    At the end of June I am visiting an Aids Orphanage in Kabwe, two hours drive from Lusaka in Zambia where I am running a hand washing programme for all the children and will talk about the importance of hand washing and to provide them with some soap to start them off. We will also be making hand washing stations using recycled materials for those who live in the nearby shanty town to take back home with a bar of soap. Maybe it’s a shot in the dark but perhaps one or two people may take some notice.

    I am hoping to raise £2000 for the school before I go – this will pay for four children to be housed and educated for a year – can you spend a penny (or 20,000)? I am paying for all my expenses so the money goes directly to the school – you are not funding a mid-life crisis trip!

    Click here to sponsor:

    To find out more about the Orphanage and Zamcog click here and watch the video.


  • My Washing Machine Door Broke – with my Washing inside!

    Broken Washing Machine Door

    Washing machine doorWhat a calamity – household of 5 people, washing machine not letting me have my washing back! I tried everything, the emergency release button didn’t work, neither did the reset, the nice customer service help-line couldn’t help.

    So I had to call someone out – and yes, you’ve guessed it, the washing was going to have to stay there for 5 days till the engineer came (and when he came, you guessed it, he didn’t have the part)!

    My major concern was first was there anything crucial stuck in there, that was needed for school etc? Fortunately not. Then a nasty thought occurred to me – what was going to happen to all that warm damp washing in 5 days? So I used my environmental health knowledge and decided that I would rinse the clothes every day and spin them, and for good measure I used some Dettol Laundry Cleanser as well.

    The outcome was when the washing was released, no smell, and very clean! But a very big pile of washing had built up which I am just clearing now – that machine has been working over-time. Serves it right.

  • Dirty Pavements – Dog Poo and Spitting

    Health Risks From Dog Poo and Spitting

    Dog poo and spitting is disgusting but is it also a risk to health?


    Some councils have outlawed spitting and can levy fines of up to £5000 to perpetrators.

    So what are the health risks? Well once on the ground, the risk from spitting is limited because the transfer of infection is from inhalation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from someone carrying this illness coughing or spitting near you. When there are many carriers in the community, and people are in overcrowded conditions the risk increases.

    The cases in the UK are mostly attributed to people being infected abroad and travelling to the UK.

    It is a treatable disease, but worryingly there are strains which are multi-drug resistant. So whilst we don’t have a major health risk at the moment from spitting, perhaps it would be better not to be complacent and take measures to educate our children not to spit, and for local authorities to take action for what is, if nothing else, a fairly disgusting habit. For more information click here.

    Dog Poo

    Dog and cat faeces can carry a range of organisms one of which can lead to toxicariasis. This can lead to blindness and is of concern as it can be carried by unwormed dogs and cats and can be found in their faeces. So apart from the disgusting smell of dog poo, it can actually harm you as well. Councils need to make sure there are enough dog poo bins for dog walkers to dispose of faeces responsibly, and to empty them regularly enough – sometimes they are over-flowing in popular areas. There is a good factsheet from the NHS.

    Top tips for keeping safe:Dogs and Cats can carry diseases

    • Always make sure your and your child wash their hands when you come in from being outdoors
    • If you have to bring the buggy in check the wheels and if you touch them when folding the buggy up, remember your hands will be dirty so need washing
    • Take shoes off when you come into the house – particularly if you have children who are crawling
    • If you have to clean your shoes, use anti-bacterial wipes or sprays and paper towels and don’t use the kitchen sink or a re-usable cloth! Do it outside or in a bucket which you then disinfect afterwards
    • Take anti-bacterial wipes with you when out with your children in case they fall into dog poo or if you are going to give them something to eat on the go. Hand gel is also good when hands are visibly clean
    • Put lids on your sand pit to prevent cats using it as a litter tray
    • Teach children not to eat dirt or touch poo
    • Dog owners need to pick up poo, and use the bins – but also take care if they contaminated their hands – carry anti-bacterial wipes just in case
  • Campylobacter: 7 Top Tips to Reduce Risks at Home

    food and drink - raw whole chickenCampylobacter – What Consumers Need to Know

    Whilst the Food Standards Agency battles with the problem of contaminated chickens in the food chain and has to put out a revised strategy for reducing its incidence, we consumers need to be vigilant to do our best not put ourselves at risk from Campylobacter, in the knowledge that the latest figures from the FSA show that 65% of chickens are contaminated with this nasty bug. The good news, is that Campylobacter is preventable, and simple good hygiene can prevent it!


    Seven Top Tips to Help Prevent Campylobacter in the Home


    C ross contamination can spread campylobacter found in 65% of chickens

    A fter preparing raw chicken disinfect surfaces and utensils (dishwasher or antibacterial cleanser)

    M ake sure you NEVER wash raw chicken

    P lace raw chicken at the bottom of the fridge.

    Y our dirty cloths can transfer bacteria. Use disposables or wash at + 60C

    L ather up and wash hands after handling raw chicken

    O nly serve chicken if it has reached 75oC.


    Campylobacter can cause very painful abdominal cramps and diarrhoea which can continue for some weeks. It is also associated with other side effects which may continue for many months, even years. For example, reactive arthritis or Guillain-Barré syndrome – which affects the body’s immune system and attacks the nervous system.