Why handwashing is such a big deal

Everyone knows washing your hands is important, but fewer know the reasons why.

Hands under running water in sink.

Your mother told you to do it, your teacher told you to do it, your work has policies and posts signs about doing it and social media even has graphic messages about doing it, still many do not do it or do it wrong. Handwashing is the single most important action that each of us can do to prevent the spread of germs and disease.

The real story about handwashing

Repeatedly, studies show that the majority of people are not washing their hands, or not washing them properly. An interesting study conducted by United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) observed people in a test kitchen and reported that only three percent of participants washed their hands when they should have. In another study, only 35 percent of people washed their hands before starting meal preparation.

Why handwashing matters

Handwashing is important with meal preparation and before eating because it is the mode of transmission for many illnesses, such as the common cold. Hand to mouth contact is one way that these germs make it into our body. Many studies shows that by following proper handwashing procedures, we can greatly reduce the number of bacteria on our hands, which then reduces the risk of getting sick.

How to properly wash your hands

Ask anyone how long we are supposed to wash hands for and the answers will vary. The fact is, 20 seconds is all the handwash procedure should take. The following are the steps that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as many other regulating agencies, recommend:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. 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.
  3. Scrub your hands, preferably for 20 seconds, but many resources say 10-15 seconds is adequate. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or let them air-dry.

When to wash your hands

MSU Extension recommends washing hands frequently, and it is not just for after you go to the bathroom or before you prep food, essentially anytime that you re-contaminate your hands, you need to wash them. Especially wash your hands when you are in a situation where you could transfer these germs, such as prepping food. The following examples are important triggers to wash your hands:

  • 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
  • After handling your phone or other electrical device
  • After touching your hair or scratching yourself
  • After handling money

This list could go on and on, so it is up to you to use good judgement. To prevent yourself from consuming germs that may have originated from poop, blood, snot or spit (because ultimately – this is what you may be consuming), wash your hands.

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