Hey, did you wash your hands recently? Well, you probably did it wrong. CNN pointed out a recent government study found that 97 percent of the time, people fail to properly wash their hands—a problem that can lead to all sorts of unnecessary illnesses being spread.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, people are falling short of meeting the standards for acceptable handwashing set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bar to make sure your hands are sufficiently clean requires you to wash and scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds.
The study looked at 363 people in six kitchen test facilities located in the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina and in the town of Smithfield, North Carolina. What it found was nearly every person working in the kitchens failed to reach the handwashing standard set by the CDC, which is probably not reassuring if you’re currently out to eat at a restaurant in Tar Heel State.
In addition to not properly washing their hands, the USDA reported that “numerous” participants inexplicably didn’t even bother to dry their hands after washing them, which is like...what? Are you just air-drying your hands while working with food? Don’t do that.
While falling a couple of seconds short of the recommended time doesn’t seem like it’d be all that bad, the study showed just how easily poor hygiene can compound into other problems. According to the USDA, participants managed to spread bacteria to spice containers while preparing burgers about half of the time when they failed to wash their hands. Eleven percent of the time, those involved in the study spread bacteria to refrigerator handles.
“You can’t see, smell or feel bacteria,” Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for food safety at the USDA, said in a statement. “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.”
Perhaps the only thing more shocking than the fact that 97 percent of people involved in the study washed their hands wrong is the fact that we’ve all apparently gotten worse at this basic bit of hygiene over time. A 2013 study conducted by Michigan State University found just five percent of people washed their hands correctly, which is nearly twice the success rate of the USDA study.
So how exactly do you wash your hands properly? Here’s the CDC’s guide:
Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.