OUTAGAMIE COUNTY - How many times do you wash your hands before making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? That's a question that could soon be answered by a federal judge for people who work in nursing homes.
According to a federal lawsuit filed by Outagamie County, staff at Brewster Village - the county-owned nursing home in Grand Chute - wash their hands nine times to make a PB&J. But the county says that's apparently not enough for the state.
"The contention that you need to wash your hands 20 times to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich defies common sense," said Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.
The county is suing the state Department of Health Services over several citations that were issued against Brewster Village in 2011 and 2012. One of the citations says staff allegedly "did not prepare, store and serve food under sanitary conditions."
During a routine inspection, an inspector noted that "staff did not follow proper hand hygiene when preparing and serving food."
What did they find? The inspector noted several alleged violations of the federal food code, including things like:
"Staff touched freezer doors and drawer handles before touching clean utensils."
"Staff soiled gloves they were wearing by touching control knobs and drawer handles without washing or changing the gloves..."
"Staff failed to wash their hands after opening a drawer and before removing utensils..."
"Staff did not change or wash gloves between removing jelly jar lids and then removing bread from a bag..."
According to the lawsuit, under the DHS interpretation of the federal rules, staff would have to wash their hands 28 times to make a PB&J.
"It's just ridiculous," Nelson said. "This has been going on for some time and we thought that someone should stand up. Someone should say something. Someone should make a stand and that's what we're doing."
FOX 11 On Special Assignment wanted to speak with the administrator from Brewster Village for this story, but he would not agree to do an interview. We also wanted to show you how the staff at Brewster Village prepares food, but our cameras were not allowed inside the facility.
The head of the state Division of Quality Assurance, which inspects nursing homes, did talk with us.
"The inspection process is quite intense, quite time-consuming, but it's to assure us that the residents are safe," said administrator Otis Woods. Woods would not answer questions directly about Brewster Village because of the federal lawsuit.
"When we come in and conduct our observations, observations are, are staff engaging in proper hand washing techniques while they are preparing and serving food meant for individuals who are in compromised health? If they are not, we document what we see and if as a result of that there are violations identified, we issue those violations. So it's vigorous enforcement of requirements that are meant to keep individuals safe," Woods said.
When asked if proper hand washing means washing your hands after touching anything, Woods replied, "It's what the code requires. Okay? It's what the code requires. The nursing homes know when staff needs to wash their hands."
The federal food code does lay out several times employees need to wash hands including "...as often as necessary to remove soil and contamination and to prevent cross contamination when changing tasks."
The county contends that under the state's interpretations of the rules, it would take 66 percent longer to make a chef salad, 63 percent longer to prepare hot cereal and 30 percent more time to make a sandwich.
"Our employees are really being held to an impossible standard. Not only is it a standard that doesn't make any sense, it really is an impossibly high standard," Nelson said.
Pat Finder-Stone spent 10 years on the Wisconsin Board of Aging and Long Term Care.
"The bottom line from my perspective is patient safety," Finder-Stone said. She is also a former nursing home director.
When asked how many times somebody should wash their hands before making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she replied, "Well, probably one time if they observe the proper procedure of washing your hands, not just running your hands under the faucet. You know, soap and water, friction. Probably one time, it would seem to me, would be adequate."
"Why 28 times? That seems frivolous to me," she said.
FOX 11 On Special Assignment asked Woods what he would say to people who accuse the Division of Quality Assurance of being too strict in their enforcement of federal codes.
Woods responded, "I'd say our staff are properly trained, well-trained in enforcing those requirements."
"For individuals in compromised care, you need be vigorous in your enforcement because they're minimum health and safety standards that we enforce," he said.
Nelson says the added hand washing would waste time and wouldn't make residents any safer.
"The taxpayers should be assured that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely and I don't think it's a wise use of our resources to have to compel an employee to wash their hands 15 or 20 times to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's a waste of their time. It's a waste of resources," Nelson said.
Lawyers representing the state filed a motion in federal court asking for the lawsuit to be thrown out. They argue that the state is immune from this type of suit. So far, there have been no hearings scheduled in the case.
A survey of local businesses looked at employee numbers and overall outlook for the coming year.
Those who do go to the Packers-Falcons game Sunday will help honor a green and gold legend.
The cold caused some problems in the Fox Valley Friday.
A donation from an area bank will be making a difference in the years to come for Green Bay East High School.
A Pearl Harbor survivor was given a special honor Friday morning at Green Bay East High School.
You hear about dangerous situations more frequently lately, from the Boston Marathon bombing to the Sikh temple shooting near Milwaukee. What would happen if you were at a concert or a game, and something terrible took place? We look at …