So you think you know how to wash your hands.
Sorry, but chances are you don’t.
A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that most of us don’t wash our hands correctly 97 percent of the time when preparing food.
The biggest problem? Not washing long enough. You need to rub for at least 20 seconds.
The study also found that many people don’t dry their hands with a clean towel.
The Cost of Poor Hygiene
Rushed handwashing can lead to cross-contamination of food and other surfaces, and that can lead to food-borne illness.
“We all need to pay more attention to hand washing,” said Chandler Jenkins, a Carilion Clinic Employee Health nurse. “By washing your hands thoroughly, you can prevent the transfer of germs from food like raw chicken and beef to other foods.”
Food-borne illnesses affect 48 million people in the U.S. each year. More than 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die from them.
These numbers are in addition to the colds, flu and other virus-borne illnesses—including the coronavirus 29-nCoV—that can be spread by people who don’t wash their hands.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
When and How to Wash
How often should you wash your hands? Here are the CDC’s guidelines:
- Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
What is the correct way to wash? The CDC recommends:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold). Turn off the tap and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
If you don’t have access to soap and water, the CDC advises using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
Less Than a Minute
Hand washing is especially important during cold and flu season.
And it takes so little time. In less than a minute, you could keep yourself, or someone you love, from getting sick for days on end.
This article was reviewed and approved by Carilion Clinic Employee Health.