Government Study Says You’re Washing Your Hands Wrong

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses each year, that’s 1 in 6 people, and it ruins your entire day. Those illnesses lead to 128,000 people being hospitalized and 3,000 deaths. Some of these foodborne illnesses could be because people are washing their hands wrong.

Just in time for 4th of July grilling and making potato salad, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a study that found that people washed their hands incorrectly 97% of the time. While the concept of washing your hands seems simple enough, apparently nearly everyone is doing it wrong.

The USDA partnered up with nonprofit firm RTI International and North Carolina State University to conduct this observational study. There were 383 unknowing participants who used six test kitchens in the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina. The kitchens had hidden cameras to see how they washed their hands before preparing turkey burgers and chef salads. Only 3% of those in the USDA study were able to wash their hands correctly. Might want to stay away from restaurants in North Carolina.

Some people didn’t use or forgot to use soap. Some people didn’t use or forgot to use water. The most common mistake was not washing with soap AND water for at least 20 seconds. The cooks contaminated spice containers while preparing burgers 48% of the time and spread bacteria to refrigerator handles 11% of the time.

“You can’t see, smell or feel bacteria,” said Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for food safety at the USDA. I’ve eaten at Chipotle a lot in the past few years, I feel like I know 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,” Rottenberg said in a statement.

So how exactly do you correctly wash your hands you ask? Glad you asked. The CDC put together a step-by-step instruction guide on how to properly wash your hands like a big boy. First, these are the times when you should wash your hands.

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage

Here are the five steps on washing your hands correctly.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. 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.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds (roughly the same amount of time it takes you to disappoint your girlfriend).
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Need even more information on how to wash your hands? The CDC got you. Here’s a video on how to wash your hands. Your tax dollars are hard at work.

Also, you shouldn’t use those hand dryers in the bathrooms because those are blowing fecal matter and bacteria onto your newly cleaned hands. Probably not a great accoutrement to your tuna melt sandwich.