The Grapevine

97% Of Americans Washing Their Hands Incorrectly, Here's The Right Technique

Do you use the correct technique when washing your hands and also for the right duration? If so, you may be among the 3 percent of Americans who do so, according to a new report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The study, involving 363 people, examined six test kitchen facilities in the metro Raleigh-Durham area and rural Smithfield, North Carolina. It was found many of them failed to follow the correct hand-washing steps recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Half the time, people contaminated their spice containers while cooking burgers. According to the study, 11 percent of the time, people contaminated their refrigerator with bacteria by not washing their hands properly after handling the raw meat, and 5 percent of the time salads were tainted due to cross-contamination.

According to the CDC, this is the correct technique to follow when washing your hands:

1. First, run clean water (warm or cold) over your hands and turn off the tap. 

2. Next, apply soap and lather your hands by rubbing them together. Avoid focusing only on your palms by making sure to lather behind your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

3. The scrubbing process should take place for at least 20 seconds to get rid of germs. To time yourself, scrub for as long as it takes to hum the song “Happy Birthday” two times.

4. Run clean water over your hands again and rinse the soap off.

5. Use a clean towel to dry your hands afterward. If you don't have access to one, air dry your hands before using them.

It is not just a matter of technique but also knowing when to wash your hands. They must be cleaned under running water and soap after using the toilet, before eating food, after touching animals, changing diapers, handling garbage, and more.

"As a mother of three young children, I am very familiar with the mad dash families go through to put dinner on the table," said Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for food safety at the USDA. "You can't see, smell or feel bacteria. 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."

Avoiding or rushing through handwashing can lead to cross-contamination of food and other surfaces. People with weak immune systems, children, and older adults are at high risk of becoming sick with a foodborne illness. According to the CDC, such illnesses affect nearly 48 million Americans on an annual basis, resulting in nearly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

If you do not have access to soap and water, carry around an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (containing at least 60 percent alcohol) if you are going to spend time in high-risk conditions like visiting a sick person at the hospital. The CDC recommends rubbing your hands for 20 seconds until they feel dry.