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.
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.
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:
Make sure to give your hands a thorough cleanse in these situations:
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:
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.