From as early as we can remember, we have been told to “wash your hands before you eat.” Now, we may be the ones teaching this lessons to others.
But why is washing our hands so important and how do we do this most effectively? And are there other times when it is necessary?
Global Handwashing Day takes place each year on October 15 and is a good time for a reminder. This year’s theme is “Clean hands – a recipe for health,” stressing the significance of staying healthy with good handwashing habits.
Proper handwashing is an important measure in reducing illness-causing germs that can make you sick, whether around food or at other times during the day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.1
The CDC reminds us that germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks when people prepare or consume them and, under certain conditions, can sometimes multiply and make people sick. Therefore, it is so important to educate people about handwashing to help them and their communities stay healthy. It has been found that educating communities about handwashing reduces illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%,2, 3 and reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%.4
While washing your hands before you eat is important, there are also other moments during the day when it should be done. These include:
- Before and after preparing food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick or being around someone who is ill
- After using the bathroom
- After sneezing or coughing
- After touching anything that is in a high traffic area that may have been touched by many different hands, such as a grocery cart handle, an elevator button, or a handrail.
Using the proper handwashing method is also important for effectiveness. I advise that the entire process should take at least 20 seconds. A good procedure begins with wetting your hands with water before applying soap to your hands to create a lather that covers all hand surfaces. Next, rub hands palm to palm and carefully scrub fingers, back and front of hands, and each thumb. Once this is complete, you should rinse your hands with water and gently dry them with a clean paper towel.
To further improve hand hygiene in healthcare and community settings, the CDC Foundation is partnering with GOJO and Staples, with the addition of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. Through the partnership, a full suite of educational materials about the importance of hand hygiene in communities will be available in 2019.
You can read more about this initiative on the CDC blog https://www.cdcfoundation.org/blog/new-phase-hand-hygiene-project-focus-community-settings