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June 11, 2013

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Eww! 95% don’t wash hands properly

June 10, 2013
Courtesy of Mich­i­gan State Uni­vers­ity
and World Science staff

Re­mem­ber mom’s ad­vice about wash­ing your hands thor­oughly af­ter us­ing the re­stroom?

Ap­par­ently not.

A new study by Mich­i­gan State Uni­vers­ity re­search­ers found that only 5 per­cent of peo­ple who used the bath­room washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause in­fec­tions.

What’s more, a third did­n’t use soap and a tenth did­n’t wash their hands at all. Men were par­tic­u­larly bad.

It takes 15 to 20 sec­onds of vig­or­ous hand wash­ing with soap and wa­ter to ef­fec­tively kill the germs, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. Yet the study found peo­ple wash­ing their hands for about 6 sec­onds on av­er­age, if they washed them at all.

The stu­dy, based on ob­serva­t­ions of 3,749 peo­ple in pub­lic re­strooms, ap­pears in the Jour­nal of En­vi­ron­men­tal Health.

“These find­ings were sur­pris­ing to us be­cause past re­search sug­gested that prop­er hand wash­ing is oc­cur­ring at a much high­er rate,” said Carl Borch­gre­vink, the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

Hand wash­ing is the sin­gle most ef­fec­tive step to re­duce the spread of in­fec­tious dis­eases, ac­cord­ing to the CDC, and fail­ing to do it prop­erly con­tri­butes to nearly half of food­borne ill­ness out­breaks.

Borch­grevink and col­leagues trained a doz­en col­lege stu­dents and had them ob­serve hand wash­ing in re­strooms in bars, restau­rants and oth­er pub­lic es­tab­lish­ments. The stu­dent re­search­ers were as un­ob­tru­sive as pos­si­ble – by stand­ing off to the side and en­ter­ing re­sults on a smart phone, for ex­am­ple.

The study is one of the first to take in­to ac­count fac­tors such as dura­t­ion of the hand wash­ing and wheth­er peo­ple used soap.

Among the find­ings: Fif­teen per­cent of men did­n’t wash their hands, com­pared with 7 per­cent of wom­en. When they did wash, half of men used soap, com­pared with 78 per­cent of wom­en. Peo­ple were less likely to wash hands in a dirty sink. Hand wash­ing was more prev­a­lent ear­li­er in the day, may­be be­cause eve­ning res­tau­rant-goers are more re­laxed, the re­search­ers said. And peo­ple were more likely to wash hands if there was a sign en­cour­ag­ing it.

Borch­grevink, who worked as a chef and res­tau­rant man­ag­er be­fore be­com­ing a re­searcher, said the find­ings have im­plica­t­ions for both con­sumers and those who op­er­ate restau­rants and ho­tels.

“Imag­ine you’re a busi­ness own­er and peo­ple come to your es­tab­lish­ment and get food­borne ill­ness through the fecal-oral route – be­cause peo­ple did­n’t wash their hands – and then your reputa­t­ion is on the line,” he said. “You could lose your busi­ness.”


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Remember Mom’s advice about washing your hands thoroughly after using the restroom? Apparently not. A new study by Michigan State University researchers found that only 5 percent of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections. What’s more, a third didn’t use soap and a tenth didn’t wash their hands at all. Men were particularly bad. It takes 15 to 20 seconds of vigorous hand washing with soap and water to effectively kill the germs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Yet the study found people washing their hands for about 6 seconds on average, if they washed them at all. The study, based on observations of 3,749 people in public restrooms, appears in the Journal of Environmental Health. “These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate,” said Carl Borchgrevink, associate professor of hospitality business and lead investigator on the study. Hand washing is the single most effective step to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, according to the CDC, and failing to do it properly contributes to nearly half of foodborne illness outbreaks. Borchgrevink and colleagues trained a dozen college students and had them observe hand washing in restrooms in bars, restaurants and other public establishments. The student researchers were as unobtrusive as possible – by standing off to the side and entering results on a smart phone, for example. The study is one of the first to take into account factors such as duration of the hand washing and whether people used soap. Among the findings: Fifteen percent of men didn’t wash their hands, compared with 7 percent of women. When they did wash, half of men used soap, compared with 78 percent of women. People were less likely to wash hands in a dirty sink. Hand washing was more prevalent earlier in the day, maybe because evening restaurant-goers are more relaxed, the researchers said. And people were more likely to wash hands if there was a sign encouraging it. Borchgrevink, who worked as a chef and restaurant manager before becoming a researcher, said the findings have implications for both consumers and those who operate restaurants and hotels. “Imagine you’re a business owner and people come to your establishment and get foodborne illness through the fecal-oral route – because people didn’t wash their hands – and then your reputation is on the line,” he said. “You could lose your business.”