The summer time is prime time for all things social and outdoors. Memorial Day kicks off the grilling season! One of everyone’s favorite activities to do outside with friends and family is grilling. Whether you’re grilling chicken, burgers, or anything else you might be craving, it’s so important to remember the steps you can take from preventing everyone at the barbecue from getting sick from your delicious meal. Funny enough, one of the simplest and most preventative steps to making sure you keep everyone around you, including yourself, healthy is washing your hands. It’s so easy to forget to wash your hands after petting your dog, then going back to flip the burgers, or putting some raw chicken on the grill, then going to assemble the salad, or getting prepared a hamburger bun, then getting out the gluten-free hot dog buns. Not only is it essential to remember to wash your hands between all of these activities, but also how you wash your hands. Believe it or not, there is an exact science as to how we should wash our hands effectively. A researcher willing to shed some light on this science is Dr. Don Schaffner of Rutgers University. In a webinar delivered by Dr. Schaffner, through the Partnership for Food Safety Education, he explains all about the do’s and don’ts of hand washing.
To explain the proper steps of hand washing, it really depends on the audience you are trying to address and the environment. Some environments call for strict enforcement of proper hand washing. An example of an environment like this would be a hospital. When you look at history, the percentage of women that would pass away giving birth and patients that would die from complications with surgery dropped dramatically, just because regular hand washing was implemented. In a different environment, like in your home, the explanation of guidelines for hand washing can be a little different because they’re not as specific, making them more understandable.
Because of the variety of ways to teach the public about hand washing, the guidelines according to the Food and Drug Administration and Center for Disease Control differ. FDA’s guidelines, in general, are a bit more specific. They are intended for food service staff or hospital staff, as mentioned before. According to the FDA, in simplified terms, the steps to washing hands are as follows; rinse hands under running warm water, apply a clean compound, rub hands together vigorously for 10-15 seconds, run hands under warm water again, and finally dry hands thoroughly. The CDC guidelines are different in that they are more consumer friendly. These guidelines explain that the individual should wet their hands, apply soap, and lather up. Next, the individual should scrub for at least 20 seconds making sure they hit the back of the hands and under toenails. After this, the hands should either be dried with a clean hand towel or air-dried.
These guidelines sound easy enough to follow, but let’s say you’re at the gym. You’re trying to help out your summer body, using all the machines, then you leave, get home, would this be the right time to wash your hands, even if they don’t look dirty? Or what happens if you’re working in your garden and you get dirt on your hands, should they be washed differently since you can see that they’re soiled? The CDC guidelines explain that your hands could still very much be contaminated even if you can’t see it and that there is a difference of how to wash your hands if you can see they’re dirty versus not. When the hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol based hand sanitizer would be fine to use because it is easily accessible, effective at reducing bacterial counts, and can improve skin condition. On the other hand, if the hands are visibly dirty, they must be washed. First, remove physical debris off with a paper towel and then turn on the faucet. This method reduces the risk for cross contamination. After this, the hands can be washed per usual using the steps mentioned before.
Dr. Schaffner explains that besides just how to wash your hands, there are a lot of other factors that go into hand washing. Some of these factors include what kind of soap to use, how to dry your hands, and so on. If you go to the store to buy simple hand soap, you’re faced with an overwhelming amount of products to choose from. You could be stuck on whether to get bar soap or liquid soap, and the choice you make could impact how effective your hand washing is at stopping illnesses from spreading. Bar soap is never used in food service settings and this is because when you wash your hands with bar soap, it’s possible to leave some contamination behind on the bar. When using liquid soap, you normally don’t come across this problem. When it comes to how to dry your hands, aside from air drying, you have two main options. These are cloth towels or paper towels. Similar to using bar soap, when using cloth towels, you run into the issue of leaving behind contamination. Beyond these options, it is up to you to choose whichever scent, size, color, and shape you wish!
The decisions you make to properly wash your hands are valuable efforts you’re making towards risk management, in other words, preventing the chance that you get sick or get someone else sick. Keeping in mind that there is no such thing as zero risk, it is still very worthwhile to try to reduce your chances as much as you can. Even though it might seem tedious to make sure you’re washing your hands often, and it might take some time to remind yourself to do so, it is a very important and simple change that will really go a long way, whether you’re at a summer barbecue, hospital, gym or anywhere else.