Published: Wed, July 04, 2018
Medicine | By Douglas Stevenson

Americans are really bad at washing hands, USDA researchers find

Americans are really bad at washing hands, USDA researchers find

"By simply washing your hands properly, you can protect your family and prevent that bacteria from contaminating your food and key areas in your kitchen", acting deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA, Carmen Rottenberg, stated.

According to the paper, very few of the participants rubbed their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds - deemed enough time to get the grime off - and nearly half didn't wet their hands with water pre-wash.

An observational study performed in North Carolina, involving 383 participants using a text kitchen who prepared turkey burgers and a salad, yielded some alarming results.

Washing hands correctly is one of the easiest ways to avoid foodborne illnesses, which sickens 48 million Americans each year, according to CDC estimates. At least 128,000 people are hospitalized - and 3,000 die - from foodborne illnesses in the USA annually. Children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.

Before they started preparing the foods, 182 of the participants were shown a three-minute USDA video on the importance of using a thermometer to cook raw poultry safely. After splitting the volunteers into a "control" and "treatment" group, researchers compared people's cooking behaviour depending on whether they watched an instructional food safety video on how to measure the safe internal temperature of cooked meat.

The researchers observed that people who had watched the video were significantly more likely than the control group to use a meat thermometer properly while making their turkey burgers.

What is shocking about this study is that 97% of the participants in the study didn't properly wash their hands.

What is the right way to wash your hands? The CDC recommends rubbing your hands for 20 seconds until they feel dry. Be sure to lather the backs of hands, between fingers and under fingernails.

The process should happen with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. A proper wash of visibly dirty hands takes about as long as singing "Happy Birthday" twice.

Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. The CDC has some tips, starting with an obvious step: wetting hands with clean, running water. At the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology last month, researchers reported that kitchen towels are common conveyers of bacteria, including potentially risky ones such as staphylococcus (also known as "staph") and E. coli.

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