Hand Washing Prevents Disease


The Global Hand Washing Day was observed October 15, 2016 to increase awareness of how important hand washing is in preventing disease spread.

Hand washing with soap improves childhood survival and health. About 2.2 million children aged <5 years die each year from diarrheal diseases or pneumonia, the top two killers of young children worldwide. Hand washing is simple, inexpensive, prevents disease and reduces deaths.

In the food establishment world, the Food and Drug Administration food code calls for using soap and water for 20 seconds when washing your hands, before food preparation. Next time you watch a food preparer wash their hands before using gloves or before touching your food make a mental note of how long they wash their hands.


Globally, people clean their hands with water but very few use soap to wash their hands. But washing hands with soap removes bacteria much more effectively.

How do bacteria and viruses (germs) get onto hands and make people sick?

Exposure to the world means exposure to germs. Some germs are good. Likely you have heard of good bowel flora or skin bacteria that prevent bad germs from causing disease. But many germs cause disease. Feces (stool) from people or animals is a common source of toxic diarrhea with dangerous germs like Salmonella, E. coli O157, or norovirus. A single gram of human feces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion germs. Germs can get onto hands after people use the toilet or handle uncooked, contaminated meats or vegetables. Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to objects, like handrails, counters, or toys, and then transferred to yet another person’s hands. If someone coughs or sneezes onto their hands and then touches an object, those germs can be transferred to that object. The unsuspecting person who touches that object then contaminates their own hands. And the disease transmission continues. People often unconsciously and frequently touch their face. The germ they picked up from the contaminated object gets into their skin and enters their body through their eyes, nose and mouth and makes them sick. Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. While in the food or drink, the germs can multiply and become even more toxic. It all can lead to illness. And much of it can be prevented by proper handwashing.

Teaching people about handwashing helps them and their communities stay healthy. Handwashing education in the community:

Please consider proper handwashing multiple times a day. If you are a food preparer or food handler this is especially critical as your customer’s health is in your hands.



Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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