This is a letter to the editor I wrote to the London Free Press in the spring of 2003. I dug it up tonight while sorting some old papers. I want to put it up here in digital form, because the newspaper stock it’s printed on is about to disintegrate. There’s no date on it, but I can tell you it was published in the London Free Press some time in the week or so after April 28, 2003. At that time I was working as a produce clerk in a major grocery chain in London. The SARS outbreak was going on in Toronto at the time, and another writer had suggested that the spread of the disease could be prevented if produce handlers were required to wear rubber gloves and medical masks at all times. While I imagine it might have helped, as a produce handler I felt that full barrier medical procedures would be overkill for a grocery store. Below is what I wrote:
Regarding the letter, Better supermarket sanitation needed (April 28[, 2003]), in which the author writes some suggestions for produce precautions in the wake of the SARS threat.
As a produce clerk in a London grocery store, let me assure you workers who handle and display fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the cleanest and most sanitary in the retail industry.
Even though we produce workers wash our hands frequently and sanitize our working surfaces regularly, we understand that we cannot prevent the spread of diseases through our produce departments. We use antimicrobial soaps all through our stores to protect ourselves and our customers, but we cannot protect people from themselves.
No matter where you buy your fresh fruits and vegetables, remember to wash your produce before eating it. A simple washing will protect you from common pesticides and fungicides used on all produce and will help prevent the spread of infections through supermarket produce.
Far easier, cheaper and more effective than rubber gloves and face masks.
Greg Burrell, London