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Study Finds that Only Five Percent of People are Cleaning Their Hands Correctly

Update Date: Jun 10, 2013 02:23 PM EDT

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing one's hands is one of the easiest and most effective ways in preventing the spread of diseases and infections. Despite this fact, a new study suggests that the majority of people do not know how to clean their hands properly. This research found that even if people are using antibacterial hand soaps, they are not using it long enough to prevent bacterial infections from occurring.

The study conducted by researchers from Michigan State University observed 3,749 people who used a public bathroom. Based from these observations, researchers found that only five percent of people washed their hands long enough to effectively kill the germs that would lead to nasty infections. They also found that nearly 33 percent of people did not use soap and that 10 percent of the sample group did not wash their hands at all. The researchers stressed that men in particular were lazier with their washing routine than women were. Around 15 percent of men did not wash their hands, which is a large rate in comparison to the seven percent of women who did not wash their hands.

Another statistic that the researchers recorded was that when men washed their hands, only about 50 percent of them used soap. For women, that percentage increased to 78. When the sink was dirty, people in general were less likely to wash their hands at all. On top of that, people appeared to wash their hands more frequently in the morning as opposed to nighttime. Lastly, people were more likely to wash their hands when an obvious sign encouraging hand washing was present.

"These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate," the lead researcher, Carl Borchgrevink said. Borchgrevink is an associate professor of hospitality business. These findings were also alarming because they indicate that people are not properly protecting themselves from germs. The CDC also reports that nearly 50 percent of food-related infections and diseases could be tied to poor hand washing.

The CDC states that 15 to 20 seconds of hand washing with soap and water can effectively kill germs. The researchers timed the seconds it took people to wash their hands and they found that the average time was way below the recommendation. People washed their hands for only six seconds, which does not kill germs or prevent diseases. The researchers were able to observe people in the bathroom setting by training college students on how to collect data in the restrooms of bars, restaurants and other public locations.

Although this finding recommends people to be more diligent with hand washing, it also stresses to restaurants to continue to implement new ways to ensure that chefs and other employees wash their hands since they come into contact with food the most.

"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," Borchgrevink said. "You could lose your business."

The study was published in the Journal of Environmental Health

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