Handwashing: You're Not Doing It Right (And It Could Be Deadly)
Handwashing is a vital part of our everyday lives, but is even more important during certain times of year, like cold and flu season. 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 Your Hands 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. Last summer, 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 from food poisoning. Many cases of foodborne illnesses are caused by dirty hands preparing food.
To decrease your risk of food poisoning this holiday season, make sure you are washing your hands, the right way, before consuming food.
How To Wash Your Hands Right
Is there a right way to wash your hands? There is.
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 your hands with water - warm if possible.
- Apply soap and rub hands together, creating a lather on the palms and backs of hands as well as between the fingers.
- Continue rubbing your hands together for approximately 15-20 seconds. (This is where singing “Happy Birthday” twice can help you. Singing “Happy Birthday” twice takes approximately 15- 20 seconds.)
- Rinse your hands in clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean paper towel. Some studies have shown that using a paper towel reduces bacteria on hands, while an air dyer (available in many public bathrooms) does not and may actually increase bacteria, a potential concern to anyone with any condition in which general immunity is compromised.
- When washing hands at home, most of us have a hand towel in the bathroom. Towels can trap bacteria and provide a place for them to multiply, creating a source for illness for the next person who uses the towel. While this is not an issue most of the time, it is especially helpful to place paper towels in your bathroom when someone in your home is ill, or give the person who is sick his or her own hand towel to use.
- When soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will work. Apply sanitizer to your hand and rub your palms together, covering both sides of your hands as well as between your fingers. Continue rubbing until your hands are dry. Warning: Keep all hand sanitizers away from small children. Do not leave on a counter or in a place where young children have easy access. If swallowed, see medical help immediately or contact the Poison Control Center.
When To Wash Your Hands
Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick and the CDC recommends washing hands during these key times, when you are likely to get and share germs. Make sure to give your hands a thorough cleanse in these situations:
- Before, during and after preparing 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
- After using the toilet
- After touching an animal, animal feed, animal waste, pet food or pet treats
Food Poisoning Symptoms
Sharing food at potlucks and parties is a part of life, especially around the holidays or during summer barbecue season. 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 or holiday party, don't spread germs – instead, spread the word about proper handwashing.