Fingernails Hide Nasty Food Bugs

From BBC News, July 24, 2002.

Cooks and chefs with long finger nails are more likely to pass on food bugs such as E.coli to consumers, a study suggests.

Research carried out in the United States has found long and artificial nails are a breeding ground for potentially harmful bacteria.

They found that even after thorough washing bugs such as E.coli can remain under finger nails and can, potentially, be passed on to customers in their food.

Michael Doyle and colleagues at the University of Georgia in Griffin pushed minced beef contaminated with E.coli under the nails of volunteers. The researchers said their findings highlighted the need for tough regulations to require catering staff to have short nails.

Washing hands

The subjects then washed their hands thoroughly and the researchers measured their cleaning success.

The found that volunteers who used nail brushes had fewer bacteria on their hands.

However, if the volunteers had long finger nails even the brushes were not particularly effective.

Those with shorter nails performed much better, according to a report in New Scientist magazine.

Speaking at an International Association for Food Protection conference in San Diego, Mr. Doyle said that around 90% of bacteria on the hands could be found under finger nails.

He told delegates that the results reinforce the need for regulations to ensure that food and health workers keep their nails short.

David Belford, an environmental health officer who works with the London Hygiene Centre, said: “I am surprised anyone had to do a study on it to find out that this is a problem.

“Long nails are not a very good idea. We would say a chef has to have their nails short and clean at all times.”

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