Once upon a time, when you were young enough that you probably don’t remember, an adult taught you to wash your hands. Probably mom or dad, or a teacher, showed you how to turn on the faucet, rub the slippery bar of soap over your hands, scrub up some bubbles, then rinse them away.
Some of us are still pretty conscientious hand-washers. Then others of us figure it might not hurt to skip this procedure sometimes, if we’re in hurry…then there are those “others”. The ones we all spot leaving a public restroom, without washing their hands. The dirty hands police will catch up with them soon enough. Ugh!
You may not realize there is actually a right way to wash your hands, and that there are times when it is really very important to do so. Or, you might just forget about some of those times. We all get busy in our daily lives and don’t think about how easy it is to pick up pathogens and spread them around. Let’s do a quick review!
When you go to wash up, remember to use the warmest water possible. Lather up with nice, big soapy bubbles. Scrub your hands for 20 seconds. (We tell kids to sing the ABC song!) Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, around your fingers and wrists. The next steps are important: if the faucet has handles (not an automatic faucet), use the paper towel to turn off the water. Otherwise, you’re just re-contaminating your hands from the germy faucet handles. Dry your hands with paper or a blower. Cloth towels are not the best – they can harbor bacteria, especially if they are reused many times. Leaving the bathroom? Try to use your paper towel to open the door handle, or your shirt sleeve if you don’t have a towel. This is especially important if you’re in a public facility. Viruses can live on handles for many hours.
We know we should wash up after using the restroom. When are some other important times to clean hands?
Before beginning food preparation
After handling raw meat
Before eating food
After sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose
After caring for an ill person
After using chemicals or cleaning products
After handling garbage
After handling animals
After changing diapers
After treating a cut or wound
You can probably think of others.
What if you can’t get to a sink and soap right away? Hand sanitizers can remove grease and surface dirt, but they are not a good substitute for handwashing. They will help in a pinch, but try to wash as soon as possible. Sanitizers remove some bacteria, but if your hands are already very soiled, they are not effective. And, they do not kill viruses. So remember not to become dependent on them.
So wash up, and stay safe! Handwashing is the number one way to prevent foodborne illness. Keep you, and your family safe. Clean hands = safe food.