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Handwashing Olympics Highlights Hygiene

Photonics Spectra
Jun 2001
Daniel S. Burgess

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dirty hands are responsible for 25 percent of food-borne illnesses, or 75 million annually, and for 5000 deaths in the US every year. To raise awareness of the problem and to draw attention to how dirty our hands may be after a seemingly thorough washing, Kimberly-Clark Corp. of Irving, Texas, again sponsored the Handwashing Olympics at the Third Annual Food Safety Summit & Expo.

Fifty participants, representing companies and institutions in the food industry such as Dole Food Co. Inc., Cargill Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Co., Kraft Foods Inc., the US Department of Agriculture and the US Army's food-safety division, vied for the honor of having the cleanest hands. Only the gold medalist, graduate student Michelle Samariya-Timm of Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, N.J., had the grit to beat the grime.

The competitors applied a solution containing Glo Germ from Glo Germ Co. of Moab, Utah, to their hands before washing. Developed at the University of California in Los Angeles in 1968 as a simulated bacterium, Glo Germ is made of 5-µm-diameter plastic particles that fluoresce strongly in orange or blue when exposed to 366-nm light. The orange variant has been demonstrated to simulate bacteria with 98 percent accuracy, explained Joe Kingsley, the president of Glo Germ, and it has found applications in training soldiers to deal with bioterrorism agents and nuclear waste, and in tracking bioengineered cancer cells.

Cuticles of fire

After the gladiators of good hygiene scrubbed, the judges examined the results under a black light, looking for any remaining Glo Germ. In the end, 90 percent received a failing score. Most missed the areas around their cuticles, under their fingernails and on the webs between their fingers.

Glo Germ is sold worldwide, primarily to medical, food safety and educational sectors to teach effective cleaning procedures. It is used by the United Nations to raise health awareness in developing countries.

Kimberly-Clark, which manufactures personal and health care products, including no-touch soap and towel dispensers, has not yet decided whether it will sponsor next year's meet.

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