"Most germs aren't bad. You're in a microbial environment all the time."
- Kathleen Rubins
Researchers from who carried out a study among 395 food handlers in 15 different types of outlets in Kenya's Nairobi County have warned that dirty money and mobile phones are harmful to health and can cause death.
The study was carried out by researchers from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), and US Army Medical Research Unit in Kenya.
According to them, money, especially low denomination currencies, is causing more diarrheal diseases among people who are being exposed to foodborne germs in hotels and other food joints.
The study revealed that because money and mobile phones are rarely cleaned, they act as reservoirs of germs that cause food poisoning.
After carrying out tests on money in all denominations from KSh1 coins to KSh1,000 notes in circulation within Nairobi, the report revealed that among coins, KSh5, Sh10, and KSh20 were dirtiest, followed by KSh50, Sh100 and KSh200 notes.
“Most of the money denominations and phones were contaminated with pathogenic micro-organisms,” the report revealed.
The report was presented at the 7th East African Health and Scientific Conference held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
In a report by Daily Monitor, it was revealed that because food handlers, especially waiters and cooks, do not observe hygiene after answering their phones.
They said at the time of the survey, 34 of the participants were found to be sick, having been diagnosed with coughs, pneumonia, and inflammation of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis).
These diseases not only cause a problem to the patients, but they are prone to be transferred to the food being handled by the sick waiter or cook.
In addition, more than 60 percent did not wash hands after touching money or using their phones. Normally, food handlers should not be the same people handling money.
“Food handlers and the general public should be sensitized on the risks involved in handling food after touching money and cell phones,” warns the study.
In 2009, Kemri did a similar study in Nairobi and found money highly-contaminated with fecal organisms. Most contaminated were coins collected from butchers, followed closely by roadside maize roasters and food kiosks.
According to Dr. Richard Korir, a research officer at Kemri’s Centre for Microbiology Research and corresponding author of the study, lack of adherence to hand washing and sanitation hygiene is leading to transfer of these germs into the food served to oblivious consumers.
The study was conducted and submitted by a master’s student at JKUAT who looked at different bacteria found in the environment, foods, intestines, and skin of both people and animals.
Although most strains of these bacteria are harmless, others can cause diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, food poisoning, and skin infections.
“Sh1,000 is the least contaminated because it is the least used, while the Sh1 coin is also less dirty as its value has depreciated and therefore less used,” noted Dr. Korir.
Interestingly, Dr. Korir said, compared to money, phones are worse.
“Many people do not perceive phones as dirty or sources of contamination, and therefore, almost never observe hand hygiene after using them,” he said.
The phones were found to be contaminated with 12 bacteria after being swabbed and tested, with the most prevalent, Staphylococcus, which is commonly found on skin and hair.
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