We have lots of alcohol hand gels, antibacterial scrubs why bother washing hands? We all know that there are microscopic organisms all around us. Most are harmless, and a few are harmful (germs). It is good to have a range of different microorganism because they compete and prevent any one group becoming dominant.
There are some germs that over time become resistant to chemicals, disinfectants etc. If we only use chemical methods of hand cleaning, germs resistant to certain chemicals can remain unaffected. Still, what is more important, we think the hands are clean and then continue unaware of the risks.
The alternative, vigorous hand washing with hot soapy water is physical removal of the germs. Germs will not build up resistance to this. The soap binds with dirt, helped by the hot water, the rubbing of the hands loosens the dirt, and then the rinsing removes them. Proper handwashing will reduce the incidence of sickness and diarrhoea and viral infections.
That said, we need to have a healthy mix of microorganisms on our skin. The skin was designed for this. Remember, in our recent past; we washed once a year whether needed or not! It had the effect of increasing childhood illness and death and dying in middle age. When we do need to take care is when our hands (it is usually the hands) deliver germs into a place where they can get access into our or someone else’s body. I think of it as a house with lots of doors. The walls are the skin and the doors entry points into the body: mouth, nose, cuts and grazes, food etc. So, the critical time to wash hands is after going to the toilet, changing a nappy, dealing with animal poo, doing the gardening etc. and always before: eating, making food, dealing with wounds etc.
Current research shows that recent serious infections of E Coli haven’t originated from the food industry but form the home caused by ineffective hand washing.
BBC article – Poor toilet hygiene behind E.coli superbug spread.
If a member of the family has symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting or a nasty cold, use separate hand towels and regularly clean handles, taps and flushing mechanisms with sanitiser. Anyone with these symptoms shouldn’t prepare food for others until free from symptoms for a couple of days.
We run regular food safety course if you are interested in finding out more about these, click here – Food Safety Training in Nottingham.