Guest Post By: Candess Zona-Mendola of MakeFoodSafe.com
“Put some dirt on it,” my father-in-law would say when someone got a scrape or a cut. His tongue-in-cheek humor was quintessential of the generation he was born in.
“Dirt is dirt, and dirt doesn’t hurt.”
“A little bit of dirt never hurt anyone.”
“Dirt creates a healthy immune system.”
“I ate lots of dirt as a kid, and I never got sick.”
We have heard them all. As I have grown and learned a thing or two about bacteria, I have found I tenderly disagree with him.
Now, I am a fan of dirt. Rather of the idea of dirt. I made many mud pies as child and still as an adult make sandcastles at the beach. Dirt is definitely fun – to play with. But eating dirt, that is where I draw the line. Because dirt has bacteria and lots of it.
The Dirt on Dirt
As a food safety advocate, I see a wide array of foodborne and waterborne illnesses. Some from animals and others from, well, dirt. Many of the bacteria that can contaminate our food love to live in soils – like Listeria. Now, will we get Listeria from eating dirt? Probably not. But should we practice an ounce of prevention? Definitely, yes. Especially as many of our favorite foods – like blueberries if you are my son – are grown in the dirt.
So, how do we tell this to a child, let alone a toddler? How do we explain to them that dirt is fun, but could make us sick (especially if it is still on our berries and our hands)?
In our home, we have created a game. We call it “The Happy Birthday Game.” The idea is that we want to make washing things – like berries and our hands – just as much fun as playing in the dirt. I use “The Happy Birthday Game” to instill good habits, before singing the song becomes not so much fun anymore. You see, doctors and health agencies alike agree that handwashing and washing produce are the best practices anyone can do to ward off the majority of illnesses – not just foodborne ones. Did you know over a third of adults don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom?
How is the game played? It is really simple.
- Step 1 – Wash your hands. (Lather them up well with soap and sing the song “Happy Birthday” twice as you wash.”
- Step 2 – Get a dirty thing you may want to eat. If you are my son, it is a pint of blueberries from the grocery store.
- Step 3 – Get a chair or a stool. Little hands usually want to be independent and wash the dirty thing themselves.
- Step 4 – Turn on the running water.
- Step 5 – Put the dirty thing under the running water.
- Step 6 – Sing the song “Happy Birthday” twice as you let the running water splash over the dirty thing. Make sure to move it all around so the water runs over all areas.
- Step 7 – Pat dry with a clean towel or a paper towel.
- Step 8 – Eat!
I am sad to say that the days of my daughter playing “The Happy Birthday Game” are almost over, but the goal of the practice has stuck. She washes her hands. She washes her produce. She understands that washing food and preparing food properly will keep her (and those she cares about) safe. Her brother is well on his way to adopting the same habits.
Who knows? Maybe our silly little game will work for others. After all, we all know the words to “Happy Birthday.”
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Candess’ passion is helping people.
Like all mothers, Candess wears many hats. Candess is the Senior Trial Paralegal at The Lange Law Firm. With 15 years of paralegal experience, she has worked on many different types of litigation. Candess began her career helping people in family law, civil rights, and employment cases. She went on to work on national mass tort cases, with a particular emphasis on helping women who have been harmed by defective medical products and pharmaceuticals. Candess has worked on trial teams from the West Coast to the South to MidWest, in both state and federal courts. She has been invited to speak at national seminars on the behind the scenes work that goes into taking massive bellwether cases to trial in federal court.
Candess became a paralegal in order to help people. When Candess learned that millions of Americans each year were becoming sick from food contaminated with pathogens, she wanted to do something about it. Ever the problem solver, Candess began by finding ways to get more helpful information about food safety concerns and solutions to families (especially other mothers) in a timely fashion.
MakeFoodSafe.com is Candess’ third food safety blog. Her first food safety blog has won multiple awards and has been recognized as a: Top 30 Food Safety Blog; Top Mommy Approved Blog; Top 10 Blog Posts by Texas Bar Today; and the Blogger Recognition Award.
Candess works closely with Jory and the food safety team to develop and cultivate the firm’s food safety cases. From intake to trial, Candess ensures everyone gets what they need when they need it, even the most challenging matters.
To Candess, clients are family. She is never too busy to take time to explain a complicated issue, answer a question, or give a supportive ear. For our clients who have never found themselves in a legal proceeding before, Candess makes it a point to help them understand the process. The phrase, “no question is a silly question” is routine in her vocabulary.
A mother of two, Candess lives in a suburb of Houston with her husband, Tim. When she is not saving the world one deadline at a time, Candess can be found channeling her inner chef or with coffee and a book.
You can follow Candess and MakeFoodSafe on Facebook.