The good news, says food safety specialist Karen Blakeslee, is that Americans seem to be getting the message about the importance of washing their hands. But, barely.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released findings of a survey recently indicating that, during the pandemic, U.S. adults were more likely to remember to wash their hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing their noses as compared to a similar survey in 2019.
Yet, the CDC reported, nearly 1 in 4 people still do not wash their hands after these actions.
“It is disappointing that this survey did not reveal a better health change,” said Blakeslee, who is director of the Rapid Response Center for food science at Kansas State University.
“This was a self-reported survey, so there are limitations on how people recalled when they washed their hands, or whether they had access to hand washing supplies and other factors. But the fact that there was some improvement is a positive.”
Blakeslee routinely counsels consumers on the importance of hand washing when preparing food, though it’s also important for everyday living. She notes that hand hygiene is the first line of defense to preventing many illnesses, including foodborne illness. “It not only reduces risks to yourself, but to others,” she said.
“Think about it this way: wouldn’t you want your medical professional to wash their hands before a medical procedure? The same holds true for washing your hands before handling food. Hand washing reduces the spread of diarrheal, respiratory and gastrointestinal illness. It helps to keep your family and your community healthy.”
The CDC’s report includes reminders for washing hands after using the bathroom; before and after preparing or eating food; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
The agency also lists points of emphasis for washing hands during the pandemic:
- Before and after touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- After going to a public place and touching a frequently touched surface.
- Before and after touching your mask.
More information on food safety and health practices is available through K-State’s Rapid Response Center, and K-State Research and Extension’s food safety website.