Tackling flu prevention

Ross Skadsberg
Ross Skadsberg

As cold and flu season approaches, remember that you have the power to prevent outbreaks in your community.  

In addition to encouraging residents and staff to get vaccinated for seasonal flu and continuously monitoring for flu symptoms, you can encourage your community to focus on two key prevention measures: proper hand hygiene and frequent cleaning and sanitizing of high touch point surfaces.  

Teach proper hand hygiene

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95% of people don't wash their hands correctly. Training residents and staff on proper handwashing procedures is essential. Proper handwashing aims to remove most bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, so there are fewer to spread to others – or make their way into the body when hands later touch mouth, nose or eyes. The CDC recommends these steps:

  • Wet hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.

  • Rub hands together to lather the soap. Clean the backs of hands, between fingers and under nails.

  • Scrub for at least 20 seconds.

  • Rinse well under clean, running water.

  • Dry with a clean towel or air dry.

If hand sanitizer is used:

  • Remove any dirt from hands with soap and water.  Sanitizers are most effective on visibly clean hands.

  • Apply product to palm and rub hands together until it disappears (15-20 seconds).

Education is the first step in promoting effective hand hygiene. But the real challenge is motivating staff and residents to wash frequently and follow protocols day in and day out. In addition to posting reminders near sinks, consider taking these actions:

  • Install hand sinks in convenient, visible locations.

  • Always keep sinks stocked with soap and paper towels.  

  • Use soaps that are gentle on hands.  Formulations that irritate skin may dissuade even the most dedicated handwasher.

  • Be a role model: Make sure that you and other members of your management team wash hands following the same high standard you set for staff and residents.

  • Continuously reinforce this message: “Protection starts with prevention. And handwashing is critical to prevention.” Do so by offering personal thanks when you see residents and staff washing their hands properly and commend them for helping to keep the community flu-free. And when flu and foodborne illness outbreaks are in the news, use them to reinforce handwashing as a critical part of prevention in your community.

Because flu and cold viruses can spread easily from the hands of foodservice employees to the foods and beverages residents and staff consume, it's especially important to promote handwashing among kitchen workers. In addition to implementing the actions above, the Food and Drug Administration suggests that you also:

  • Staff shifts at a level that allows employees to feel they have time to wash their hands.

  • Plan food preparation activities to reduce the number of times hands need to be washed.

  • Make sure foodservice workers clean their hands with soap and water, not hand sanitizers. The CDC warns that hand-sanitizing products do not adequately remove many important foodborne pathogens from hands.

Sanitize hard surfaces

According to the CDC, more than 200 different types of bacteria, viruses and pathogens cause colds and flu. You may not be able to prevent them from entering your community or taking up residence on surfaces that everyone touches -- door handles, light and air control switches, remote control devices, tables, faucets and toilet flush levers and other bathroom surfaces. But you can prevent them from spreading.

Your best defense is proper cleaning and sanitizing done frequently. Sanitizing and disinfecting reduces the number of harmful microorganisms on the surface – and thus lowers the risk that the next person who touches it, then puts hand to mouth, nose or eyes, will become infected.

The CDC recommends that high-touch surfaces should be cleaned more often than low-touch surfaces.

Equally important is to follow an effective cleaning and disinfection procedure. We recommend the following steps:

  • Clean: Use a detergent to remove organic material that could protect viruses from sanitizers.

  • Rinse: Rinse off detergent to avoid dilution or inactivation of the disinfectant, which will be applied next.

  • Choose and use an EPA-registered disinfectant product. The product label should include claims of effectiveness against influenza viruses. Look for multi-purpose solutions that sanitize and disinfect.  New solutions offer faster kill times at lower dilution rates, thus helping promote safe and healthy spaces.

  • Disinfect: Carefully read and follow directions for use on the product label.

Protection against flu and cold outbreaks starts with prevention. With the right training, tools and motivation for your residents and staff, you can unleash the power of prevention in your community.  Talk with your cleaning and sanitizing partner to learn more.  

Ross Skadsberg is the director of foodservice marketing at Ecolab.

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