Know how to wash your hands correctly? Only 5% of Americans do

About 15% of men do not wash their hands at all

Topics: Behavioral Health, Service Lines, Appropriateness, Quality, Performance Improvement, Infection Control, Infectious Diseases, Safety

June 13, 2013

A new study in the Journal of Environmental Health finds that about 95% of Americans do not wash their hands thoroughly enough to kill germs—a practice that CDC says contributes to 50% of all foodborne illness outbreaks. 

For the study, Michigan State University (MSU) researchers observed 3,749 people in public restrooms and found that only 5% washed their hands vigorously with soap for the 15 to 20 seconds recommended by CDC. On average, people washed their hands for about six seconds.

The study also found that 33% of people did not use soap, and 10% did not wash their hands at all. Men were more likely to have poor handwashing habits:

  • Just 50% of men used soap, compared with 78% of women; and
  • 15% of men did not wash their hands, compared with 7% of women.

In addition, the researchers found that people were more likely to wash their hands earlier in the day and if they saw a sign encouraging them to do so.

"These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate," says Carl Borchgrevink, lead author and professor at MSU's  School of Hospitality Business.

"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, adding that "[y]ou could lose your business" (Preidt, HealthDay, 6/11; Linares, UPI, 6/11; Medical News Today, 6/12).

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