Handwashing: You're Not Doing It Right (And It Could Be Deadly)
During flu season, people may be extra vigilant about washing their hands. Don't want to get the sniffles or pass your cold on to your friends? Keep washing those hands to keep the germs at bay. But proper handwashing is not just for the winter months – it's a year-round good habit. And in the summer, when potlucks and neighborhood barbeques abound, the consequences of improperly washed hands could be deadly.
Wash Before You Eat
A new study indicates that 97 percent of people don't wash their hands properly before handling food. The results can be devastating. Recently, at least 40 people became ill after eating food at a summer potluck in Charlotte, North Carolina. Many of them were hospitalized and even admitted to the ICU. Health officials confirmed that someone at the potluck didn't wash their hands thoroughly before preparing food. A shared dish was contaminated with shigella, a bacteria that's spread through feces.
Think this is a rare situation? Think again.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one out of six people gets food poisoning every year. That's 48 million people, of which 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Many cases of foodborne illnesses are caused by dirty hands preparing food.
Proper Handwashing Method
Most people rush handwashing, skip using soap, don't wet their hands or they dry off with a soiled towel. Take the time to thoroughly wash your hands to prevent the spread of disease. And some surprising news about that beloved bottle of hand sanitizer: While it's tempting to use a squirt of sanitizer instead of washing, it's not as effective as traditional scrubbing. Hand sanitizer is best when you don't have access to soap and water.
Otherwise, follow the basic handwashing steps whenever possible, which include:
- Wet hands with water.
- Apply soap and rub hands together for at least 20 seconds.
- Scrub palms, backs of hands and in between fingers.
- Rinse with clean, running water.
- Dry hands using a clean towel. Get more details about the handwashing steps.
When to Wash Up
Make sure to give your hands a thorough cleanse in these situations:
- Before a meal or handling food
- After touching raw meat or eggs
- After using the bathroom or changing a diaper
- After touching animals or their food, waste or toys
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick or treating wounds
- After touching garbage
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
Food Poisoning Symptoms
Sharing food at potlucks and parties is a part of life, especially during summer barbecue season and around the holidays. If you left a party and started feeling sick within a few hours or days, you may have food poisoning.
Signs of food poisoning include:
- Nausea and vomiting
For most people, the symptoms resolve in several hours to days. But some people – such as children, the elderly and those with compromised immunity (people with chronic conditions like diabetes) – may experience life-threatening illness. Contact your doctor to see if you need to be evaluated or if it's safe to rest and recover at home.
Less than a minute of thorough handwashing can keep you and your loved ones healthy. At your next backyard get-together, don't spread germs – instead, spread the word about proper handwashing.