The Germ City: Clean Hands, Healthy People Program is an integrated education, Extension and research program consisting of classroom education for youth, Extension activities conducted during fairs, festivals, and community events, and research focused on hand washing behavior change related to safe food handling and health.
There are several objectives of the Germ City Program. First, the program wants to enhance awareness of the importance of hand washing using science-based education for youth, adults, and older Americans preparing food in the home. It also aims to improve the effectiveness and frequency of hand washing, reaching a diverse audience in rural and urban settings; to modify attitudes and facilitate positive behavior change for hand washing; and to generate a data/research base to support future study and evaluate the effectiveness of hand washing education programs related to behavior change.
The focal point of the Germ City Program is a large, walkthrough tunnel equipped with black lights. Participants apply a black light-sensitive lotion and enter the tunnel, seeing pretend germs on their hands. After initial observation, participants wash their hands normally, walk back through Germ City, and assess their effectiveness. It’s a “hands-on” experience in which participants can see how effective their hand washing is.
Germ City has been an important part of state and county fairs, festivals, and community events in thirteen states, reaching more than 400,000 people since 1996. In response to E. coli outbreaks and public health concerns, Germ City has been the focal point of guest hand washing education to improve public health. At many fairs around the country, Germ City is an annual event.
There was evidence of system change at Puyallup Washington’s Western Washington Fair (the 5th largest fair in the world) after the introduction of the Germ City Program. Previous evaluation conducted during collaborative programming with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department indicated there was immediate, measurable evidence of behavior change during initial outreach programming. Soap usage doubled from 300 gallons to 600 gallons during the fair.
Germ City was started by Susie Craig, extension educator at Washington State University. She began by putting black lights in refrigerator boxes, then got involved with four other states to make it a more developed program. In the past several years, many universities across the country have become involved.
Universities that are part of the Germ City program include Washington State University, West Virginia University, West Virginia State University, Alabama A & M University, University of Idaho, University of Hawaii, University of Vermont, Western Illinois University, University of Tennessee, University of Arizona, and University of California-Davis as part of Extension and education outreach activities.
Germ City partners have witnessed a rise in interest for the program since the outbreak of H1N1 flu; currently, there are six Germ City units in Idaho.
Germ City Programs have also been very successful in schools. In elementary and middle schools, presentations using the science-based Germ City curriculum are delivered to small groups in sessions lasting from 30 to 60 minutes.
When asked about her favorite part of the program, Sandra McCurdy, Extension Food Safety Specialist at the University of Idaho said, “I enjoy watching the interaction between kids. Its fun to watch the program at fairs and to see families get involved; the children seem to get really excited when they do a better job washing their hands than their parents.”
Germ City has a significant impact on children’s hand washing skills. Evaluation was conducted with 179 elementary and 172 middle school students in WA, AL, WV, and ID at ten sites. Four to six weeks after the initial presentation, with no new instruction, improved hand washing effectiveness was confirmed by independent observations of educators, researchers, and students.
To start a program of your own or to get more information on the Germ City Program go to www.germcity.wsu.edu.