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Preventing the Spread of Germs and Viruses-Frequently Asked Questions

I get a lot of questions in the classes I teach about hand hygiene, handwashing and etiquette. In this article, I would like to review proper handwashing instructions and some of the related questions I have received along with some resources and references.

It bears repeating: Regular handwashing is a great practice to help prevent the spread of germs to others and to help avoid illness.

Proper handwashing is important for reducing the number of harmful microorganisms on our hands.

The following are instructions for proper handwashing:

1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the faucet, and apply soap.
2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, front of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. What equals 20 seconds? Sing the “Happy Birthday” song quietly in your head, from beginning to end, twice.
4. Rinse your hands and wrists thoroughly under clean, running water.
5. Dry your hands using a clean paper towel or air dry them.


Handwashing for School Children-Review basic handwashing procedures with children. For more information , see UF/IFAS Extension, Proper Handwashing for School Children-

Habits, hand hygiene and etiquette -We all need to practice proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. Busy college students, overworked adults, stressed parents and sometimes forgetful grandparents can use handwashing and personal hygiene reminders. Old habits can be difficult to break, and new habits can be challenging to start.

Families and consumers are encouraged to wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds and practice good respiratory hygiene and etiquette by covering coughs and sneezes.

Handwashing reminder cut-out-Here a simple print, cut and/or fold reminder that can be temporarily posted on refrigerators, sinks, bathroom mirrors, dorm room doors, medicine cabinets, etc.….

UF/IFAS Extension Broward County Handwashing Reminder (cut-out)-

Does handwashing water have to be warm/hot to be effective or is cold water OK? Researchers have studied this, and hot, warm or cold water appear equally as effective in cleaning hands.

International Journal of Consumer Studies-

Journal of Food Protection-

According to Dr. Amarat Simonne, UF/IFAS Extension, Professor and Extension Specialist (Food Safety and Quality), “The public should practice good hand hygiene all year round, not just during flu season.”

What about touching grocery cart handles and freezer doors, touched by many people, every day in the store? Grocery carts can harbor germs on the handle. Use the sanitized wipes provided at the entrance to the store. Use them once again when exiting the store, after touching freezer door handles, money, meat packages that are dripping, etc. When you get home wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Should I wash my hands after putting gas in my vehicle? Yes. Gas pumps and keypads are used by multiple people each day. They can harbor germs too. Use the disposable gloves available at many gas stations or sanitize your hands with hand sanitizer kept in your vehicle. When you get to a place with a sink and running water, wash your hands with soap and water following the proper procedure.

What about the use of hand sanitizer as a replacement for handwashing? Hand sanitizer is not a replacement for properly washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol which will help reduce the number of germs on your hands. The use of an alcohol gel is better than nothing at all.

Should I buy antibacterial soap? Regular soap and antibacterial soap help kill germs. There is no need to purchase expensive antibacterial soap, basic soap does just fine.

UF/IFAS Extension, Hand Hygiene and Hand Sanitizers-

What if someone is seen wiping their nose and then immediately wants to shake my hand in a public gathering such as a funeral or church service? You do not want to spread germs from person to person. This must be phrased gently, so as not to offend others. You can politely say, “I am so sorry, please take no personal offence, but I am refraining from shaking hands to help stop the spread of infection.”

How do I politely tell someone I don’t want to shake their hand in the general public due to the possible spread of germs without offending them? Many people are afraid to offend others by telling them they don’t want to shake hands. We all want to stay healthy and not spread germs. You could say, “I am sorry. Please don’t take any offence but since it is flu season, I choose to not shake hands at this time.”

If someone continually coughs or sneezes without covering their cough, should I say something? If yes, how do I say it without offending them? Yes. “Cover your cough” is a commonly used slogan and signs are distributed locally by Public Health Departments etc. This can be tricky since some people take offense to recommendations from others. You can politely say, “Please cover your cough. I have learned from attending University of Florida Extension classes that one of the best ways to stop the spread of germs is to cover your cough.”

Should I wash my chicken before I cook it? This question comes up frequently and is somewhat related. Research says there is no need to wash chicken prior to cooking it. You must cook chicken to the proper temperature which is 165 degrees F. The best way to tell the internal temperature of cooked meat is to use a meat thermometer. Eggs and egg dishes should be cooked to 160 degrees F. Note: Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed prior to eating too.

Fight Bac/Safe Cooking Guidelines-

Washing fruits and vegetables-

Is it safe to spray my countertops and sink with a solution of bleach and water to sanitize them? Yes. In addition, the kitchen sink drain, disposal, and connecting pipe should be sanitized every few days. Make a solution of one teaspoon bleach in one quart (about one liter) of water and pour it down the drain.

Food Safety-Does Your Kitchen Pass the Test?-

Center for Disease Control website for prevention and treatment information:

• UF/IFAS Extension Broward County website-
• UF/IFAS Extension Broward County blogs-




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