Coast Guard All Hands is featuring the monthly “Wellness Wednesday” series to help Coast Guard members learn more about healthy living. Blog author Tim Merrell is the Coast Guard’s Health Promotion Program Manager, a prior health services technician, has a bachelor’s degree in health education, and is a certified personal trainer. Please contact Timothy.M.Merrell@uscg.mil for topic recommendations or questions.
People are a very social and come into close physical contact with each other almost every day. This interaction is a good thing with many benefits. Unfortunately, one of the negative outcomes to our social behavior is the spreading of bacteria and viruses (influenza). When we are introduced to someone new or have not seen a friend in a long time, we generally greet him or her with a firm handshake. This may seem innocent enough until you start to think about what their hands, or your own hands, have been touching (bathroom stalls, door handles, elevator buttons, money) and the numerous germs on those objects. The best way to ensure we are not receiving other peoples’ germs or giving germs to others is to wash our hands.
A new study by the Department of Agriculture, revealed that people are not washing their hands effectively 97% of the time before meals. This observational study involved about 380 people in test kitchens while they prepared and cooked meals. By monitoring the participants through cameras, it was observed that the necessary 20 seconds required for effective hand washing was not met. People were not using soap, they did not get their hands wet, or when they did those procedures correctly, they did not dry their hands with a clean dry towel. While some people may think a quick rinse is all that is needed, if you do not wash your hands properly you are at risk for catching or spreading numerous germs.
Keeping your hands clean is especially important before handling food. Foodborne illnesses, such as salmonella, norovirus, and E.coli, can infect the food and make you very sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports an estimated 48 million Americans are sickened by contaminated hands that prepare food. This results in approximately 128,000 people hospitalized and 3,000 deaths. This is why it is important to keep your hands clean while preparing, cooking and serving food.
To wash hands properly, wet your hands with cold or warm water, soap up your hands and lather well, rub your hands vigorously for 20 seconds (that is the “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” song twice), making sure to wash your palms and fingers, the back of hands, wrists, between fingers and thumbs, and under and around fingernails. After that, rinse to remove all soap, dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel and turn off the faucet with the paper towel. This video from the CDC further explains proper handwashing techniques. If you do not have access to running water, choose a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol.
Be social and have fun, but wash your hands often, and teach your children how to wash their hands properly!