This article is meant to alert lodging and food service personnel to the potential impact of infectious diseases, the risk of cross-contamination, and the need for infection-control programs throughout the hospitality industry. An infection-control program is not only a wise policy from the standpoint of avoiding health risks, but can also be an effective marketing strategy for those individual properties or corporations that seize the initiative.
The food service industry has experienced a phenomenal number of disease-related outbreaks. It is nationally recognized that only five to ten percent of food-related illnesses are reported to local environmental agencies and that the real number of illnesses is at least 25 times that reported. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) feels greater efforts should be made to determine the incidences of all diarrheal and food-borne diarrheal disease. In the hospitality industry, the process of eliminating disease-causing organisms is often taken for granted.
Disease transmission is very likely in hotels, motels, and restaurants, because very few housekeepers, food service workers, or guests wear protective barriers or practice effective personal hygiene. Also, most of the chemicals used for sanitizing and disinfecting are either inactive against certain bacteria and viruses or are not used according to the manufacturers’ directions.
There are three levels of disinfection:
Low limited level (must kill one gram-negative organism).
Intermediate moderate level (must kill two organisms: Staphylococcus and Salmonella).
High or hospital level (must kill three organisms: Staphylococcus , Salmonella, and Pseudomonas, plus Tuberculosis pathogenic fungus, and certain specificviruses).
Most household disinfectants are the low to moderate level. This is acceptable in the home, because there is less likelihood of major disease transmission occurrences. However, in businesses serving the public, more attention to disinfection and high-level products should be used.
Hotels, motels, and restaurants should be training their employees on how to break the cycle of contamination and how to use high-level disinfection products to supplement cleaning routines.
Consider the following objects found in hotel and motel rooms: sink, toilet, shower, tub, bedspreads, mattress and/or mattress cover, air conditioning system, carpets, furniture, drinking glasses, and telephone. If these surfaces are not effectively disinfected, eliminating any microorganisms that could cause disease, your customers are at potential risk.
The previous guest may have had Tuberculosis. Consider that, according to microbiologists, 20 percent or more of the population carry some type of infection. Disease-causing microorganisms are found in body fluids, blood, saliva, semen, phlegm, nasal aerosol, body waste, animal waste fomites (definition: any item or object other than food that can propel microorganisms), contaminated food, and contaminated environmental surfaces.
The goals of an infection-control program are simple:
Reduce the number of microorganisms and break the circle of cross-contamination. Certainly for an industry that prepares and serves food and provides lodging and sanitary facilities to the entire public, the weight of argument over sanitary practices seems to be on the side of caution and conservatism.
Prevention of disease transmission is primarily an exercise in quantity. While it might be highly desirable to eliminate all microorganisms through sterilization, it is not always possible. There are many situations when the best that can be done is disinfecting with the most effective material available. In a cross-infection incident, disease will or will not develop based on the number of microorganisms introduced into the host and/or the extent of the host’s resistance to disease. The simple concept of reducing the number of organisms to the point where the host’s immune system can handle the infection naturally should prevent the disease from developing. Consequently, the reduction of microorganisms without complete sterilization can still serve a very useful purpose as part of an infection-control program.
It would be advisable for every hospitality establishment to implement some type of infection-control program that is compatible with company policies and objectives before a crisis forces management to play catch-up.
The Marketing Advantage
When a corporation embarks upon an infection-control program, it is very important to include as part of that program a campaign to make consumers aware of the benefits offered. In the lodging and food service industry, or any other business, people do not want to admit that mistakes can be made. Marketing is a means for positioning an image. If a hotel or restaurant is linked to a major disease outbreak, the image is negative. By implementing infection-control procedures, training employees, and utilizing high-level disinfection products, a positive image reflecting concern by the property is perceived as positive.
The Importance Of Infection Control To Employers And Employees
The major goal of an effective infection-control program is to prevent cross-contamination, thereby protecting al guests and personnel from acquiring a serious or fatal disease.
The second purpose of an infection-control program is to protect properties from shutdown or loss of revenue.
Another goal of an infection-control protocol is making sure all proper testing is performed as prevention before an outbreak can occur. Action instead of reaction, or prevention instead of a problem, are models of preparation.
The Fundamentals Of Infection Control
For our purposes, the most important organisms of concern are the pathogenic microbes. These are the disease-causing bacteria and viruses that cause infections. Pathogenic microbes are less abundant than beneficial or nonpathogenic microbes. Some pathogens cause localized infection, such as the common cold; others may affect many different tissues and can be deadly. When your immune system is compromised by a viral infection, the body becomes susceptible to the opportunistic pathogens. These opportunistic microorganisms are normally not harmful, but can detect a break in the body’s defenses and become pathogenic. The body provides a natural resistance to microbial invasion. It is only when these defense systems are broken down or cut that the body is exposed to infection.
Hence, a lodging establishment possesses all the elements conducive to possible transmission of organisms and needs to establish a proper infection-control program to minimize the risk and impact of viral or bacteriological diseases. All personnel should be made aware of the part they play in safeguarding customers and other staff members.
Diseases Potentially Transmitted In A Room Environment:
- Staphylococcus Infections
- Streptococcus infections
- Athletes’ Foot
- Legionnaires’ Disease
Diseases Potentially Transmitted In A Food Service Environment To The Customer
- Hepatitis A
- Trench Mouth
- Intestinal Flu
Risk Situation In Which Disease Can Be Transmitted In A Housekeeping Function To An Employee
- Moist towels
- Body fluids on environmental surfaces, toilet seats, sink, sheets, tub, shower
- Bed wetter
- Soap soup
- Air-conditioning systems
- Accumulations of air-borne organisms on surface, drapes, bedspreads
Risk To Guests From Room Occupancy
- Air conditioner
- Drinking glasses
- Towels, washclothes, laundry
Contamination and Exposure Risks To Guests
- Contaminated silverware due to inadequate cleaning or santitizing.
- Contaminated glassware or dinnerware due to exposure from organisms from the hands of employees.
- Exposure to air-borne organisms on tables, counters, etc., promoted by air-conditioning systems.
- Hepatitis risk from infected food handlers.
- Food contamination from exposure to contaminated environmental surfaces.
- Poor or nonexistent hand washing and failure to use antimicrobial soaps.