Clean Hands for Healthy Living

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension

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Several common misconceptions exist about how often hands should be washed, water temperature, soap choices, and the best way to dry hands.

Water alone may remove some of the visible soil, but soap is needed to help remove the unseen transient bacteria and viruses that may be on skin from contact with uncooked meats and poultry juices, or contact with items that are likely to have been touched by many people. Think about the numbers of people that touch money and door handles. People say one thing but observational surveys have shown that many people fail to wash their hands before preparing foods or after using the restroom.

Studies have shown that ordinary soap works just as well at preventing bacteria and germ transmission as antimicrobial soap products. Both bar and liquid soaps can effectively remove bacteria from the skin. However, it is the action of scrubbing (not the type of soap) that physically removes potential disease-causing micro-organisms from skin so they can be washed away when the hands are rinsed. Comfortably warm water is best for both hand washing and rinsing.

Hand sanitizers do not work on soiled hands and are ineffective against intestinal viruses such as NOROVIRUS, the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the United States. Proper handwashing is a preventive measure in protecting yourself from food-related illnesses. Viruses in food come from human feces. Always wash your hands after using the restroom, changing a diaper, or petting an animal. Washing hands is very important before preparing foods and before eating. 

A paper towel is your best choice for drying hands. Cloth towels that are routinely used to dry hands have been found to be a leading cause of recontamination of clean hands. 

Practicing good handwashing will protect you, your family and others you meet from a variety of foodborne and other types of illnesses.

Eleanor Summers
Extension Agent
Family & Consumer Sciences