The single most important procedure for preventing the spread of infections is proper hand washing, yet many people still fail to carry out this simple task. Infection control in hospitals has been the focus of much media attention recently and campaigns have been put in place to increase awareness and improve the hand hygiene of health care workers. What we must remember is that hand hygiene is as important in our every day life as it is in a hospital environment.
Why is it so important?
It is normal for a population of harmless micro-organisms to be carried on our hands at any time; however activities in our every day life such as handling raw meat or visiting the toilet can significantly increase the presence of more harmful ones. You are not only able to infect yourself, for instance by touching your nose, eyes or mouth with contaminated hands but you can pass them on to others via the surfaces and food that you touch.
These micro-organisms are so small that you are unable to see them with the naked eye. The harmful ones can be the cause of illnesses like vomiting, diarrhoea, colds and flu as well as much more serious illnesses such as E.Coli 0157, which can prove fatal.
How important is hand washing in food preparation?
Failure to wash your hands before preparing a meal means that anything present on your hands can be transferred onto the food, work surfaces and utensils that you touch. Food poisoning can result from eating food contaminated with harmful micro-organisms which have been allowed to multiply to dangerous levels. You will be unable to tell from its appearance, taste or smell that food is contaminated. It can take some time for symptoms of food poisoning to develop, which can include vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever and they can last for several days.
How do you wash your hands correctly?
It may sound very simple but many people fail to wash their hands as thoroughly as they should do. Do you follow all these steps?
- Wet your hands with warm running water
- Put soap on to your hands.
- Rub hands together, making sure you pay particular attention to the areas between your fingers and thumb, around your nails and both the front and back surfaces of your hand. This should take a minimum of 15 seconds
- Thoroughly rinse hands under warm running water
- Dry hands completely with a clean towel, disposable paper towel or a hot air dryer
When should you be washing your hands?
- Before preparing a meal
- Before eating a meal
- Before tending to a cut or wound
- Before inserting and taking out contact lenses
- After handling raw meat
- After handling animals
- After changing a baby
- After visiting the toilet