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KNH kitchens ‘serving pain’ to patients, reveals survey


NAIROBI; KENYA: Cooks and food handlers at Kenyatta National Hospital are a danger to patients with most found chewing over uncovered food, failing to wash hands after visiting toilets, keeping long nails, wearing dirty uniforms and lacking in good personal hygiene.

While the worst are food handlers with primary school education, college-educated workers are not much better at the facility, described last week by departing chief executive Richard Lesiyampe as a den of rot and inefficiency.

Mr Lesiyampe, who is now the Principal Secretary in charge of the Environment, was quoted in the local media at a hand over ceremony on Tuesday.

A new survey sanctioned by the hospital administration and carried out by researchers from Kenyatta University says patients are dangerously exposed to possible diseases from contaminated food arising from poor handling practices at the hospital’s four kitchens.

Margaret Githiri of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Department, Judith Kimiywe of Department of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics and Paul Okemo of Department of Plant and Microbial Sciences all of Kenyatta University investigated how patients’ food is handled at the hospital and have published a damming report.

The disconnect

Their report which is published in the African Journal of Food Science and Technology has raised two main questions both in the management of the hospital’s food chain in particular and the relevance of the country’s education system.

“In our study, the college level food handlers scored very high in aptitude test (academic knowledge), but scored poorly in implementation of the same,” states the report. 

For example, 80 per cent of college level workers had knowledge on when hands should be washed but only a quarter of them (25 per cent) cleaned their hands after visiting the toilet and before handling food.

The research team says this disconnect between academic knowledge and actual work practice could be faulted in local ‘certificate getting’ training methods which assume the presence of knowledge will automatically translate into applying it.

On how much patients are exposed to possible food poisoning or other more serious health conditions, the team sampled 95 food handlers at the hospital who had either college, tertiary or primary school education.

“Only 26 per cent of college-level, 23 of primary-level and 12 per cent of secondary-level, actually cleaned their hands after visiting the toilets and before handling food,” it states.

Dirty workers

Although most of the college-trained workers were aware they should keep short nails while at work, in the contrary, more than half had long nails compared to a similar number among secondary-educated workers and 38 per cent among those with primary school education.

Such nails, says the research team, can harbour dirt that can contaminate food either during preparation or when being served. A similar pattern was also found with most of the workers wearing dirty clothes (which had stains, dirt or both) and not wearing headgear as required for food handlers.

Lacking hygiene

The most abused food hygiene practices included not wearing clean uniform, chewing over uncovered food, not wearing headgear, having long nails, not washing hands after visiting toilet and using the same chopping board for raw and cooked food without cleaning.

“Lacking personal hygiene among food handlers is one of the most commonly reported practices contributing to food borne illnesses,” concludes the study.

Dirty clothing especially at a hospital location has been implicated as a source of the hard-to-treat bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. It can cause serious infections such as blood poisoning, pneumonia, or bone and joint infections.

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