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Millions of Americans with dirty hands are spreading dangerous bacteria

How should you wash your hands?

When should you 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 handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

washing hands under running water

  • 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.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them in most situations. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and might not remove harmful chemicals.

Hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

How do you use hand sanitizers?

  • Apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.

USDA

Have you ever seen someone handling food in a way that you would never do yourself?

Maybe they were preparing raw poultry and then immediately handled lettuce without washing their hands. Or maybe they did wash their hands, but they dried them by wiping them on their pants. You would never do that, right?

Then again, maybe there are things we all do that might increase our risk for foodborne illness.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently completed a study in which participants were recorded cooking in a test kitchen to see if they handled food unsafely while cooking. Preliminary results show that participants did not do well preventing bacteria from spreading around their kitchens or verifying that their turkey burgers were safe to eat. Check out the list of top five food safety mistakes participants made that increased their risk of illness.

  1. Participants failed to successfully wash their hands 97 percent of the times they should have. Of the 1,195 recorded points when hand washing was necessary to control possible bacteria transfer, participants failed to wash their hands successfully more than 1,150 times.
  2. 48 percent of participants cross-contaminated spice containers due to lack of handwashing. Because they did not wash their hands adequately harmless tracer microorganisms that act just like human pathogens spreading throughout the kitchen. Campylobacter and Salmonella, bacteria found in poultry products, have been shown to survive on food contact surfaces for up to four and 32 hours, respectively.
  3. 5 percent of participants transferred bacteria to salads they prepared and would have immediately served if cooking at home.
  4. 66 percent of participants did not use a food thermometer while preparing turkey burgers during the study. Some participants used color and feel instead to determine if the burgers were safe to eat. Using a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature is the only way to verify meat and poultry are safe to eat.
  5. When participants did use a thermometer, 45 percent did not cook the turkey burger to the minimum safe internal temperature of 165 degrees. Not cooking poultry to at least 165 degrees can lead to bacteria, such as Campylobacter and Salmonella, surviving the cooking process.

The good news is that cooking food safely is in your hands and doing so can help keep you and your family healthy. Control the transfer of bacteria in your kitchen by always following the five steps of handwashing after touching raw meat and poultry. Know that you have destroyed dangerous bacteria in your meat and poultry by cooking to the proper internal temperature.

If you are cooking a burger, insert the thermometer through the side of the burger, and ensure the probe reaches the center of the burger, which is the coldest portion. Cook meat and poultry to these internal temperatures:

  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 degrees with a three-minute rest.
  • Ground beef: 160 degrees.
  • Poultry (whole and ground): 165 degrees.

Once you have cooked your foods, make sure to pack the leftovers up and refrigerate them within two hours. In hot summer weather (above 90 degrees), refrigerate them within one hour.

For more food safety information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, or email or chat at AskKaren.gov.

Posted by Adam Ghering, public affairs specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

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