5 Hand Washing Facts Most People Don’t Know

The purpose of handwashing is simpler than most people might think.

A common misconception which we discuss at length within our food safety classes to prep for the ServSafe exam, is that handwashing is not intended to “kill”, or sanitize, our hands. The soap and warm water are used simply to loosen dirt, grime, and pathogens (bacteria or viruses) from the surface of the skin, and send all those items down the drain and into the septic or sewer systems. Washing hands is no different than washing a lasagna pan with baked on food debris. At home we use warm water, soap, and friction to break up the debris before putting away the clean dish. People also tend to wash hands longer due to trying to rinse all of the soap off of the hands. Hand washing is that simple!

The FDA banned 19 “supposed” antibacterial additives commonly used in soap products and body washes

In 2016 the FDA issued the final rule stating that there is NO evidence to support that these additives are more useful in reducing bacteria on hands. In fact, there is some evidence that the main items used in antibacterial hand soaps could potentially do more harm than good over the long term. The type of soap doesn’t matter as long as the process is done correctly. In addition, some hand sanitizers are also made with the same chemical additives rendering the hand sanitizer 100% useless against viruses such as the flu, common cold, and Coronavirus. This topic will be touched on in another article.

Hand washing sinks outside of bathroom?

When I was younger, and it was a lot easier to travel, I spent a week in Paris visiting a friend. We dined out as much as possible and I noticed that most cafes and restaurants within the city had the hand washing sinks located outside of the actual bathrooms. Looking at it now I wish we had more of this in the US. The sinks outside the bathrooms are nice because I like to wash my hands before filling the gullet, but the interesting aspect is that hand washing frequency increases significantly in places which have these sinks located separate from the toilets. The “social peer pressure” is the main thought behind more people washing their hands who might not otherwise. No person wants to be perceived as the one who went to the toilet, bypassed washing their hands, and then double fisted breadsticks for the next hour. According to a 2014 Stanford study, hand washing rates increased by 24 percent when another person is present in the bathroom. Could more sinks outside the bathrooms could potentially have a similar or greater effect?

LADIES wash hands more often than MEN, (statistically):

This is absolutely not a surprise and needs no further explanation.

What does the Flu, the common cold, and Coronavirus (COVID-19) all have in common?

Additives which are so-called “antibacterial” will have zero affect on these pathogens because they are all viruses. Something “antibacterial” is only effective against certain bacteria, NOT viruses. Not to be redundant, again it is the friction of scrubbing with soap and warm water which sloughs off anything on the surface of the skin, and there is some evidence a LOT of people were not washing their hands as often as they may have said they did. The common flu virus and the common cold virus are primarily spread through touching a surface contaminated with the virus, then bringing the hand(s) to an opening in the body such as the mouth, nose, or eyes, thus infecting the individual. Since the COVID-19 outbreak throughout the country, infections from the flu and cold viruses have fallen off the map almost completely. What does this mean? This could mean there was a very large percentage of the population who were not washing their hands, but who are now actually doing what they should have been doing all along. Hand washing signs are everywhere now (why is this just now a thing?). Had these folks actually been washing hands like they are now, which at least has helped stop the spread of some viruses like the cold and flu, this COULD have helped reduce the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Hand washing is still THE KING OF PERSONAL HYGIENE! The simplest of hygiene concepts has, and forever will be, the best way to prevent the spread of disease amongst ourselves. Wrapping it up on a personal note: If it is available to wash hands, and someone chooses not to do it, they are personally responsible for sickness amongst the rest of us. In short…

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…and help save a life.