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Hand Hygiene: The Most Important Routine You Shouldn’t Forget

What did you forget to do this morning after feeding your pet? Wash your hands.

When it comes to personal hygiene and staying healthy, it all begins and ends with our hands. Yes, we all think we know how to wash our hands, but it’s important to remember that germs can spread anytime during the day. Understanding hand hygiene and the importance of washing hands vigilantly can zap germ spreaders.

“We tend to forget to stop and wash our hands during the day,” says Mindy Costello, Program Manager for NSF’s Scrub Club®. “We’re all in a rush to get things done, and in the end, we may be the germ spreaders we’re hoping to avoid. People can protect themselves and others from illness by washing their hands often and correctly.”

NSF’s public health gurus share these tips on how and when to wash your hands.

Tips for Washing Your Hands

  • Get on the Soap Box

    Soap and water are the most effective way to remove germs like norovirus, Cryptosporidium, Clostridioides difficile, coronavirus, and heavy metals and pesticides.
  • No Sink? No Problem

    Hand sanitizers are the next best alternative when soap and water aren’t available. They work effectively to reduce the number of microbes on your hands, but only when your hands aren’t covered in dirt or grime. Put a generous amount of sanitizer on your hands and rub them until they're dry. If you don’t rub your hands until they’re dry, you haven’t allowed the sanitizer to do its job of killing the germs.
  • Don’t Forget All the Steps

    Each step in handwashing is vital. For soap to work, you need water. To effectively trap germs, grime and dirt in the bubbles you create when washing, you need to scrub for 20 seconds. To carry the germs down the drain, you need to thoroughly rinse the soap off your hands. And if you don’t want to keep spreading leftover germs to other surfaces, you need to dry your hands completely.

When to Wash Your Hands

You can never wash your hands too much, but there are instances when it’s essential to scrub:

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home 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 the garbage

The Power of Five

NSF’s food safety experts want you to remember the Power of Five – the five steps of handwashing.

  1. Wet your hands.
  2. Apply soap.
  3. Scrub for 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse well.
  5. Dry completely.

To reinforce the importance of handwashing, NSF created the NSF Scrub Club®. These germ fighters and their activities can be used at home or at school to help teach kids — and remind adults of — the right way to wash their hands. Also, check out the Germy Villains and the Teacher’s Guide for some great learning tips.

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