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Food Safety - All in your hands Print

Islam has always emphasised the importance of cleanliness and hygiene, including the emphasis on regular washing of hands. As Muslims we wash our hands during wudu - the ablution before Salaah (prayers) - and Salaah is compulsory five times a day. We also note that Rasulullaah sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam would also perform khilaal or letting the water pass through the fingers as well. Studies show that many people are careless regarding the fingers when washing the hands.


In addition to washing for prayers and to attain ritual purity, Rasulullaah sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam has also taught us to wash our hands before and after eating. The importance of washing one's private parts and hands after using the toilet is instilled in Muslims from childhood. Science only recently began to appreciate the significance of this basic act of cleanliness and the harms of ignoring it.



It is now proven that harmful restroom micro-organisms evade current controls and find their way into the food preparation and serving process. The term, "Faecal-hand-oral" refers to the process of workers not washing their hands after using the toilet. They then transmit food-borne diseases to the mouths of third parties via their hands. This is the major cause food-borne disease in food operations.


In the past decade, most food safety focus has been on bacterial contamination such as E Coli and Salmonella. However, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (USA) has found that poor hand-hygiene and viruses cause more food-borne disease than bacteria.


International Hygiene Council

The underlying message of the International Hygiene Council with regards to personal hygiene and preventing the spread of germs and infections is quite simple. People should stick to the basics. Dr Kgosi Letlape - chairperson of the South African Medical Association and International Hygiene member - said, "It is quite frightening how the basics have been lost…the basics of hand-washing are no longer taught in homes, parents need to lead by example."


According to Letlape, hygiene is a major mechanism of defence and good hygiene practices have the "ability to break the chain of infection," he said.


In a recent global Hygiene Survey it was found that nearly 70 percent of South Africans run the risk of transmitting dangerous infections, for according to the survey, they did not wash their hands "at key germ transmission points".


The Hygiene Survey conducted in South Africa involved 1 000 participants - 500 male and 500 female participants being a cross-sectional sample from all social groups. The survey contained nine questions to determine people's attitudes towards hygiene issues.


The focus for the Hygiene Council for 2007 in South Africa is hands hygiene. This involves creating awareness on the importance of hand washing and promoting the correct hand washing procedures.


Professor Barry Schoub - executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and International Hygiene Council member - outlined the fact that hygiene is a powerful tool in "preventing individuals from getting infected in the first place."


In one of South Africa's most tragic cases in 2004, six premature babies died at the Pelonomi Hospital in Bloemfontein after being fed intravenously on a contaminated nutritional mixture. A seventh baby survived. The mixture had been prepared at the hospital's pharmacy. An investigation found that a tradesman had washed his hands in the pharmacy's basin. The pharmacy assistant had then failed to disinfect the basin before mixing the babies' food. Postmortem tests showed that the babies had died from septicaemia caused by Enterobacter bacteria, which had caused their organs to bleed.



Salmaan al-Faarisi radiyallaahu 'anhu narrated:

I read in the Tawraah that the blessings of food lie in washing after eating. I spoke to Rasulullaah sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam and mentioned to him what I had read in the Tawraah. He responded, "The blessings of food lie in washing before and washing after eating."

[Ash-Shamaail lit-Tirmizii, Chapter on the ablution of Rasulullaah sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam.]


Mawlana Zakariyaa Kandalwi commented on this Hadith, "The Tawraah may only have mentioned washing after eating. The washing before was added to the Shari'ah of Rasulullaah sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam. Allaah revealed laws which were not in the previous Shari'ahs. Another possibility is that the Tawraah did mention both washes, but since changes were made to it the law of washing before eating was removed."


"Ulamaa have explained that the blessings of washing before eating mean an increase in food and satisfaction from hunger. The blessings of washing after eating mean the benefits and intentions of eating are fulfilled i.e. it becomes part of the body, creates energy and stamina, assists in strengthening one to perform acts of worship and to possess good manners."



Obedience to the Sunnah of Rasulullaah sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam carries untold blessings and benefits whether we perceive them or not. In addition to the blessings Mawlana Zakariyya mentioned, science now belatedly proves the harms one may suffer if one ignores this command of Rasulullaah sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam.


May Allah grant us the ability to appreciate the personality, practices and commands of Rasulullaah sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam.



sk/2007-10-31 13:10:44

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