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Food plus hand blow dryers equal health hazard

Web posted on December 17, 2019

Ever get the feeling of being unwell after eating a really scrumptious meal at a restaurant? Did you think it might be a touch of food poisoning?

There's a possibility you may be right about the food poisoning but not because food handling was improper.

For the last several years, because I am immune deficient because of my transplanted kidney, I have been conscious of the presence of hand air blowers to dry wet hands in restaurants. In many cases, the operators of restaurants don't offer a paper alternative.

In a report released about a year ago, Forbes Magazine contributor writer Bruce Y. Lee described results of a recent U.S. air dryer study as conjuring up "images of a swirling cyclone of bacteria and other microbes."

The study, one of many done in the past two decades, was conducted by the University of Connecticut and Quinnipiac University. Researchers took 36 culture dishes into men's and women's washrooms at the UofC School of Medicine to measure the concentration of bacteria blown from hands by dryers. They held the dishes under the dryers for 30 seconds and also did a baseline test without the operation of dryers to measure the concentrations floating in the air of the rest rooms.

What they found was an average of 18-to-60 colonies of bacteria, mostly feces. There were colonies identified that can cause diseases in humans. The baseline, exposed for 2 minutes to washroom air, showed an average of one or less colonies per dish.

Installing HEPA filters into the blow dryers did reduce the number of bacterial colonies but, said the researchers, it didn't reduce or remove those that can cause human diseases.

These results are consistent with results of similar studies done in the UK and Saudi Arabia, for example. Many medical journals have published these studies.

It is important to note that the "cyclone" Lee described can be absorbed into the air simply from flushing a toilet and then travel throughout the establishment (a process known as toilet plume and aerosol reaction).

My advice is that if you see a washroom entrance leading directly onto a dining area particularly if there is no door to close on the entrance you leave the restaurant and go elsewhere.

While there is an ecological argument against the use of paper towels (trees are being destroyed) it appears to be the only viable option to protect human health which must take priority.

What can be done to alleviate the concern over dryers in establishments where food is prepared?

A simple and effective way is for you to take a moment to approach a staff member and tell them why you are leaving or why you believe there is a health concern in their establishment. A voluntary move to overcome the threat to human health is far better than an arbitrary ban on the devices where food is present.

Since the results of these studies have been done many times, it's hard for me to reconcile that no attention has been made by public health officials to address what could become a serious problem as more and more dryers are installed in establishments.

If you feel as deeply about this issue as I do, a letter to your MPP/MP could initiate a provincial overview of this obvious health concern. Hopefully, it might recommend the banning of dryers in places where food is prepared or consumed.

That's it. Until next time.