Giving Handwashing the Importance it Deserves - U of I Extension

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Giving Handwashing the Importance it Deserves

This article was originally published on September 14, 2016 and expired on October 30, 2016. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

Think about this: Do you wash your hands after taking out the garbage? Touching your face or hair? Petting the dog? Changing a diaper? Blowing your nose? Sneezing? Before and after putting on a Band-Aid? Before sitting down for a meal? Before and after handling raw meat? After using the bathroom? According to the 2015 annual Healthy Hand Washing Survey, only 66% of Americans report washing their hands after using the bathroom. Washing hands is the simplest and one of the most effective methods in preventing food poisoning. Spending an extra 20-30 seconds in the restroom properly washing hands can prevent hours spent in there later due to food poisoning.

          Salmonella and E.coli 0157, two types of harmful bacteria, come from feces, also known as excrement. One gram of human feces, the weight of a paper clip, contains 1 trillion germs. Also raw meat can be contaminated with invisible animal feces, appetizing right? One of the many reasons it’s important to not only wash hands when handling raw meat, but also to cook meat to their respective food safe temperatures.

          Norovirus, not a bacteria but a virus, is the leading cause of illness from contaminated food. Often called food poisoning or the dreaded stomach flu, noroviruses causes cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting with symptoms occurring within 12-24 hours after infection. The amount of virus particles that fit on a head of a pin could infect 1,000 people with norovirus. This virus is extremely contagious and can remain in feces two weeks after symptoms of the virus disappear. Handwashing, using gloves, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables, washing soiled laundry, cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, and staying home when sick are easy ways to prevent getting and transmitting norovirus. Similar to norovirus, Hepatitis A can also be spread through improper hand washing after using the restroom, especially when handling food. Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease and can take weeks or months for a full recovery. Immunization can also prevent against the onset of Hepatitis A.

          So what is the correct way to wash hands? Before even turning on the water, remove jewelry and roll up sleeves. Germs love to live under jewelry and no one wants a wet sleeve when leaving the bathroom.

          The first step for correct hand washing is wetting hands under warm or cold running water and applying soap. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention temperature of the water does not affect microbial reduction, but warmer water can irritate skin and be detrimental to the environment. The Food and Drug Administration has also recently noted that there is no current scientific research supporting the use of antibacterial washes over soap and water. 

          Lather and scrub hands by rubbing them together under water for 20 seconds. When lathering up with soap remember to hit all areas of the hands and wrists including: thumbs, palms, between fingers, wrists, front and back of hands, and where there are a high amount of germs, under the nails. Evidence suggests washing hands between 15-30 seconds is more beneficial in removing microbes from hands than a shorter amount of time. Sing or hum “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or the “Happy Birthday” song twice to account for the twenty seconds of washing.

          Rinse hands under running water and air dry or use a towel to dry hands. Rinsing hands under water prevents irritation and the friction between hands, soap, and water help remove additional microbes, grease, and dirt. Research also finds the best practice to dry hands is air drying or using a paper towel.

          Celebrate Food Safety Month all through September by practicing correct hand washing techniques. With cold and flu season around the corner, proper handwashing can prevent 30% of diarrhea related illnesses and 20% of respiratory infections. Reducing foodborne illness by 1% would prevent 500,000 people from getting sick. Help combat the spread of germs by spending an extra 30 seconds washing up!

University of Illinois Extension teaches the importance of handwashing in elementary schools in Madison and St. Clair counties. If you would like to be a handwashing volunteer and teach this lesson in a 30- minute presentation, we would love for you to join our team! For more information, call Patty Stanton at University of Illinois Extension in Collinsville, 344-4230. We provide training and background screening for our volunteers.

Pull date: October 30, 2016