Growing up, your parents or grandparents probably told you to wash your hands often. Handwashing has been a widely accepted practice to combat germs for decades, and most people are at least generally aware of its importance. But how many people practice good hand hygiene regularly? According to an article by Harvard Medical School, over 90% of Americans surveyed said they wash their hands after using a public restroom. The American Society of Microbiology put that survey to the test by participating in a study where it was observed that 90% of women but just 75% of men actually washed their hands after using public restrooms.
What does this mean? The science shows that failure to wash hands can not only impact the health of the individual but also the people who come into contact with the individual directly or by touching surfaces contaminated by the individual. Hand hygiene is especially important for those who make, handle, and serve food to the public. This article will provide you with important information you need to know about handwashing.
Microorganisms are Everywhere
There are a variety of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. Some are good, some are bad, and some affect people differently depending on the situation. For example, 20-30% of people have staph germs living on their skin and display no ill-effects unless the bacteria are able to enter the body. While most microorganisms found on the hands are bacteria, it is possible to pick up viruses like influenza by touching infected surfaces.
Harmful germs are commonly contracted from human or animal feces, and even a small, unnoticeable amount of feces can cause big problems. According to the CDC, one gram of human feces, which is about the same weight as a paper clip, can contain up to a trillion germs. People can become infected after using the toilet, changing a diaper, handling raw meats or unwashed fruits and vegetables, or touching dirty surfaces. Some of the common pathogens found in feces are E. coli, salmonella, and norovirus. They can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and headaches and could spread respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease.
Handwashing Stops the Spread of Germs
Germs are spread when unwashed hands touch surfaces or objects like tabletops, desktops, door handles, utensils, or appliances. Foodborne illness outbreaks occur when germs get into peoples’ food and drinks via contaminated hands or utensils. Uninfected people contract the germs when they touch contaminated items and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth or if they consume contaminated food. The easiest way to avoid contamination outbreaks is to wash your hands.
The CDC recommends washing your hands:
- Before, while in the process of, and after preparing food
- 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
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After touching garbage
How Handwashing Works
Contrary to popular belief, handwashing doesn’t kill germs. The mechanical action of wetting hands, lathering with soap, scrubbing, rinsing, and drying removes germs from the surface of the skin. Soap aids in the process by removing more unwanted material from the skin than water could accomplish by itself. Regular soap is effective at germ removal, and antibacterial soap hasn’t been proven to be superior. In fact, some antibacterial soaps have been banned by the FDA because of potentially harmful ingredients in them, and there is concern that antibacterial soaps will contribute to antibacterial resistance.
The length of a handwash should be approximately 20 seconds in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. The temperature of the water doesn’t make a big difference, as evidenced in one of our December articles. However, it is important for food service and similar businesses to follow the guidelines specified by applicable regulatory entities.
Keep Handwashing Within Reach
Food service workers must always have access to handwashing stations. That could be a concern at outdoor events or indoor venues that lack traditional kitchen amenities. In those instances, a portable sink is a proven solution. Portable sinks allow you to maintain hand hygiene by providing warm water (in certain equipped models), soap, and paper towels in a lightweight, space-saving unit. For caterers who are always on the go, portable sinks are a smart investment.
Keep sanitation at the forefront at all times. Visit FoodSinksTB.com to download our Free Health Department Compliance Solutions Bulletin and request a Free Handwashing Compliance Sign to post at your workplace.
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