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handwashing

Global Handwashing Day: Old-Fashioned Soap and Water Best Way to Prevent Illness, UF Professor Says

It’s a dirty truth: many people don’t wash their hands as often as they should.

And that’s a problem when it comes to preventing disease, especially outbreaks of foodborne illness, says a University of Florida professor.

“Washing your hands with soap and water is important for removing any harmful germs you might carry on your hands. Your hands may look clean, but they can still contain thousands and thousands of bacteria,” said Keith Schneider, professor of food science and human nutrition at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Global Handwashing Day is October 15, so now is a great time to reconsider your handwashing habits, Schneider said.

“If more people washed their hands, fewer people would get sick. My top advice for people is simply, ‘wash your hands.’ Even a little bit is better than none,” Schneider said.

When should you wash your hands?

Wash your hands after using the bathroom and before preparing food, Schneider said. If you are handling raw meat products or eggs, also wash your hands before touching other food items to prevent cross contamination. “Anytime your hands come in contact with something that could contaminate something someone is going to eat, wash your hands,” he said.

How should you wash your hands?

The first step is to wet your hands and then apply soap, ideally liquid soap rather than bar soap, which can host contamination, Schneider said. If liquid soap is unavailable, bar soap will do just fine; some soap is better than no soap. “Scrub between your fingers, and, if you’re preparing food, up your forearms, for 20 seconds. Then, dry with a clean towel and use the towel to turn off the tap,” he said. Warm water is preferred, but if you don’t have that, cool water is fine.

What kind of soap should you use?

Regular soap works just fine for removing germs and cleaning your hands, Schneider said. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there isn’t evidence showing that antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than regular soaps, he added.

What’s important is that you use both soap and water, not just water, to wash your hands.

“Soap can help remove any fats or oils that are on your hands. These oils and fats can protect microbes from being washed away — think about how oil and water don’t mix. Soap breaks up fats and oils and lets them wash off your hands, taking the microbes with it,” he said.

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.

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