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Good Hand Hygiene:

A Simple Way to Protect Yourself
and Others from
Foodborne Illness + More

Dear Fellow Food Safety Warrior,

We know what you’re thinking!

You’ve heard all the hand washing mantras thousands of times before:

  • Wash your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Wash your hands after handling raw meat.
  • Wash your hands after you’ve touched an animal.
  • Wash your hands to prevent illness.

At Stop Foodborne Illness, we know these all-important messages are worth repeating and reinforcing because hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent foodborne illness (and other sicknesses, too).

We know it is hard to remember, but we’ve got some good reminders for you.

Let’s begin with some basics, shall we?

Why Hand Hygiene is Important

Simply put, dirty digits are the quickest way to spread germs and cause sickness.

You and I use our hands to touch everything around us, all day long. Lots of things covered in contaminants are finding their way onto your hands like when you handle raw meats, grab a door knob, touch a dirty sponge, or work at your office desk. Of course, those are just a few examples.

When it comes to picking up germs on your hands, this can happen on just about any surface. And, when it does, you’re at risk for contracting foodborne illnesses from pathogens like E. coli and Listeria, along with flu viruses, colds, and respiratory and diarrheal illness.

Unwashed hands are kind of like a Petri dish. Germs love to grow on them.

The big takeaway here is this:

Taking time to wash your hands frequently, thoroughly, and properly (particularly before and after certain activities) is the first-line defense against foodborne illness and other sicknesses. You’ll get rid of germs, avoid becoming ill, and prevent spreading germs to others.

It’s Time to Come Clean

Before we get to the nitty-gritty of hand washing, here are some recent statistics about hand hygiene:

• A recent survey found that 94% of Americans say they always wash their hands after going to the bathroom. But, observations in public restrooms show that only 68% of adults actually do so.
• A survey of 1000 American adults discovered that more than half do not wash their hands after riding public transportation, using shared exercise equipment, or handling money.
In this research, out of 3700 Americans examined, 1 in 20 are washing properly; the remainder are doing it incorrectly, and 1 in 10 aren’t bothering with it at all. Most people wash their hands for 6 seconds when they should be spending 3 times that amount.

This information is disturbing, especially if you happen to be one of the folks who aren’t washing properly or at all. Don’t give up though; we’ve got some hints that will help you.

Download this Factsheet

When You Should Wash Your Hands

All right, so, just when should we be washing our hands?

Here’s the lowdown on major activities that should prompt us to give our hands a good washing:

• Before preparing or eating food
• After going to the bathroom
• After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom
• Before and after caring for someone who is sick
• After working or playing outdoors
• After handling uncooked foods, particularly raw meat, poultry, or fish
• After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
• After handling an animal, animal food, or animal waste (including pets)
• After handling garbage
• Before and after treating a cut or wound
• After handling items contaminated by flood water or sewage
• After touching high-contact surfaces such as phones, keyboards, door knobs, exercise equipment, hand rails, etc.

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

Now, let’s dig in to a clear, concise hand washing procedure we’ve outlined for you. The formula looks like this:

Running Water + Soap + Time + Friction = Clean Hands

STEP 1: WET your hands with clean, running water.

STEP 2: SOAP up your hands.

STEP 3: RUB your hands vigorously for 20 seconds (that’s two times through “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”!). Be sure to wash all surfaces including:

  • Palms and fingers
  • Back of hands
  • Wrists
  • Between fingers and thumbs
  • Under/around fingernails

STEP 4: RINSE thoroughly, rubbing all surfaces to remove all soap.

STEP 5: DRY your hands rubbing vigorously with paper towel or clean cloth towel.

Here’s how this helps fight germs:

The soap suspends dirt (and other soils that trap germs) while the friction of rubbing your hands pulls dirt and greasy/oily soils free from your skin. The warm running water washes away soap/dirt/grease, and the final friction of rubbing your hands on a towel physically removes even more bacteria.

Voila! You’ve got clean hands.

Getting Children on Board

Kids love to explore their world, and the more they’re exploring, the more germs they’re getting on their hands. Hand washing doesn’t come naturally to kids, so it’s up to us to show them, and explain to them, the importance of developing good hand hygiene habits. In the words of Whitney Houston: “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” In that spirit, I want to share some handy resources for kids, teens, and parents. The following sites provide many informative materials and fun ways for children to learn about why hand washing is so important: From Kid Scoop: Hand Washing Songs, Activities & More Includes a video! From the Minnesota Department of Public Health: Teaching Hand Hygiene From the Southern Nevada Health District: Health Topics / Hand Washing

Hand Sanitizer is a Last Resort

Remember, washing your hands is always best! But, if water and soap aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with minimum 62% alcohol content.

Learn More on the CDC Website

Hand washing is a big and important topic. You can learn much more and access many more resources over at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) site.

A Few Final Thoughts

Hand washing is like riding a bike. If one has knowledge without action, they veer off in a dangerous direction of thinking that knowledge isn’t really important—or that it has little bearing on anyone’s life. And if one has only action, but doesn’t really understand the “whys” and “hows” about what they’re doing, they end up going through the motions and wasting energy, without good results to show for it. If everyone around this great big world wants to keep themselves safer from foodborne illness and other sicknesses, we need to grip the sister handlebars of knowledge and action when it comes to hand washing. Come on and ride this bike right along with us. Your passionate partner in good hand hygiene,

Stop Foodborne Illness

PS: Got a tip or comment for us? Please let us know with an email to We’d love to hear from you!