We all know you’re supposed to wash your hands, but is anyone really doing it? And what if that soap you’re lathering up with is hazardous to your health? Get the down and dirty on all things hand washing right here.
Dirty secret No. 1: Most people don’t wash their hands
A 2013 undercover study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University showed a whopping 95 percent of the people secretly observed in a public bathroom didn’t wash their hands properly and that 7 percent of women and 15 percent of men didn’t wash their hands at all. Pretty gross. Surely, the statistics are better in industries where hand washing really matters, right? Hardly.
In December 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its study of cleanliness practices in the restaurant industry and found that 62 percent of restaurant workers don’t wash their hands after they handle raw beef. You read that right. Nearly two-thirds of restaurant employees are holding dead cow meat in their bare hands and not washing afterward.
Feeling a little queasy? Let’s talk about hospitals. You know — those places swimming with infectious diseases. Despite the well-documented fact that clean hands have been severely lacking among hospital workers for years (not to mention the extensive efforts being made to get them to clean up their act), studies show 70 percent of hospital workers are not washing their hands before they interact with patients. Hello, MRSA anyone?
Dirty secret No. 2: Hand sanitizers aren’t so great after all
The CDC recommends using hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol as the next best alternative to soap and water. The problem is many people don’t use enough hand sanitizer to kill the bacteria on their hands or they end up wiping it off before it has a chance to do its job. Even when used properly, the recommended type of hand sanitizer is unable to kill certain types of germs that can only be zapped with soap and water.
And what about those natural brands of hand sanitizers that use plant extracts and boast zero alcohol content? The CDC says these may not be as effective at killing certain types of germs, they’re more likely to irritate the skin and they may actually cause germs to develop resistance to the sanitizer itself. You may also want want to avoid sanitizers with the ingredient BAC, a compound that has been accused of actually spreading bacteria around instead of neutralizing the nasty buggers.
Dirty secret No. 3: Antibacterial soaps may be toxic
Did you know that Triclosan, an ingredient found in many antibacterial soaps and consumer products, is under review by the EPA and FDA to determine if it’s safe for human use? Studies of animals show that Triclosan alters hormone regulation, and still other studies indicate that Triclosan may contribute to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. So while the EPA and FDA continue their studies, thousands are sudsing up with an ingredient that may be messing with their hormones and contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant super bugs. Plus, there’s just something about the fact that this ingredient is regulated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act that makes us want to keep this potentially toxic ingredient far away from our hands and bodies.
Clean up your act
So what can you do to keep germs at bay and stay healthy? Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds — because if nobody else is doing it, you better get serious about keeping those germs out of your body. Also, do your best to keep your hands away from your face, eat right and exercise. Oh — and maybe don’t eat at restaurants anymore. Just kidding… kind of. Read the report and you’ll probably be dining in tonight.
Studies show that reminder signs improve the frequency and length of hand washing. We like John W. Golden’s “Wash Your Hands by Order of the Management” sign — perfect for the kids’ bathroom!