Identify the types and prevalence of intestinal parasites among food handlers, and test the effectiveness of the current pre-employment screening policy.
A cross sectional survey was carried out in the catchment areas of seven primary health care centres (PHCCs) to represent various sections of Riyadh city. A total of 700 food handlers working in restaurants were randomly selected from the study area. All study subjects were asked to complete a data collection form and to bring a fresh stool specimen on the specified day to the designated PHCC.
About 66% of the selected subjects complied in bringing fresh stool specimens. Fifty nine (12.8%) of the specimens were positive for parasites. There was a significant association between the food handler's nationality and the likelihood of a positive specimen result, being highest among the Bangladeshis (20.2%) and Indians (18.5%) and the lowest among the Arabs (3.4%) and the Turks (10%). The commonest intestinal parasites isolated were Giardia lamblia (33.8%), followed by Enterobius vermicularis (27.4%). The current screening policy does not seem effective, as there was an absence of significant association between holding a valid PEHC and the test result, with 81% of the positive results from persons holding valid pre-employment health certificates (PEHCs).
Though it is obligatory for food handlers to hold a PEHC in Saudi Arabia, the prevalence of intestinal parasites remains high. Possible solutions include health education on hygiene, more frequent stool tests, and assessment of the current annual screening procedure.