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Wash Your Hands to Keep Germs Away

Though this chilly holiday season, handwashing is more important than ever!

But is just a little soap and water enough to keep us safe and well?

Dec 6 – 12 is National Handwashing Awareness Week, and The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics wants to be sure everyone knows how to wash their hands correctly and when handwashing can’t be skipped.

Registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy Spokesperson Libby Mills is here to spread awareness of the importance of keepeing those germs away.
Wash Your Hands to Keep Germs Away
Featured Speaker:
Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN
Mills is a professional speaker, writer and cooking/nutrition coach. Passionate about optimizing health and saving lives through nutrition, Mills has developed an expertise in restaurant and retail food industries, including food safety, restaurant nutrition and culinary practices. She communicates the importance of the right food choices for managing special dietary needs. A dynamic educator, Mills incorporates her passion, knowledge and experiences into any opportunity to inspire and empower others to make healthful choices. Mills also teaches nutrition at Neumann University. She is known locally as the host of "Libby's Luncheonette," a weekly Philadelphia radio show. She has written for consumer and trade publications and blogs at  Mills earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and a master’s degree from Saint Louis University.

Melanie Cole (Host):  As the winter sets in and it’s the holiday time and you’re around so many people at parties and out at restaurants, hand washing is more important than ever. But, is it enough to keep you healthy this winter? My guest today is Libby Mills. She is a registered dietician nutritionist and academy spokesperson. Welcome to the show, Libby. Let’s talk about hand washing. Thanks for being with us. Hand washing--people don’t always know how long they should do it or whether they should use plain old soap and water or sanitizers. Speak about how we can keep those germs away.

Libby Mills (Guest):   Everyone wants to stay safe from food poisoning and certainly free from the common flu. Especially now through this holiday season, it is more important than ever to wash your hands. What’s really funny – you nailed it – people really just don’t understand how to do it right. It’s so important, especially this week--December 6-12, is National Hand Washing Awareness Week. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics wants to make sure that everyone knows just how to wash their hands correctly and when they should never skip washing their hands. The most important thing, you mentioned, is soap and water enough? It is, provided you wash your hands correctly. Step one, you want to wet your hands with warm running water. You apply the soap and always, then, wash your hands from front to back, all the way up to your wrists, between your fingers, even under your fingernails. To know you’re doing this properly, you want to make sure that you are washing your hands for a full 20 seconds. I don’t know about you, but my sense of timing is not as accurate as a stop watch. The best way to remember if you’ve done it long enough is to sing two choruses of Happy Birthday. Then, when you’re done, just dry your hands on either a disposable paper towel, a clean cloth, or just air dry them and that’s perfect.

Melanie:  Hand washing – we’ve heard about the Happy Birthday singing because that really does help a lot. When we’re talking about hand washing, then there’s the drying part. Some people keep a roll of paper towels in their bathroom. Some people keep a towel there. So, is it just as bad if you wash your hands and then you use a paper towel at a restaurant, then you grab the door and right there you’ve done it again?  What do you recommend for the drying portion because that could just re-infect us all again?  

Libby:  Absolutely. Surfaces are, honestly, where we get the germs on our hands. We touch things and lo, and behold – like you said – oops, we’ve got germs. After you wash your hands, the best way to protect yourself is to certainly use a paper towel that is disposable. That way you know for sure that no one else has used that towel before you who perhaps did not wash their hands correctly and then dried their hands on it. It’s the safest way to dry your hands and know that you’re coming away germ-free. Take that paper towel, or perhaps even a clean piece of paper towel, and use it as your protection to exit, let’s say, a restroom at a restaurant or perhaps even the restaurant itself. All of those handles are just germ havens for where you can pick up those germs that can be culprits for making us sick. Protect yourself with that paper towel. That is the best way. If you’re in someone’s home or you’re putting on parties this holiday season and you want to protect your guests, you can either put out paper towels--that’s one way to do it--or put out a stack of fresh towels where each guest can then more or less use a clean towel and then put it in a basket or someplace off to the side and be assured that they are walking out of your bathroom with clean hands.   

Melanie:  I used to think my aunt was crazy when she would do that and then open the door with that. I’m like, “Come on, you’re being ridiculous.” But now, I find myself doing it too depending on where I am. Towels – when people put towels in their bathroom--you don’t know if some kid with warts or anything, because all that stuff spreads onto a towel. That’s always a good idea. What do you think about hand sanitizer and carrying it around with you? Some people use it constantly. The grocery stores now have a sanitizing cloth you can use on the carts when you get there. What do you think about carrying it around? Is that a little too much?

Libby:  No, I think it’s a great idea. It certainly, I’m going to say, is a plus in our modern world. The mistake is confusing hand sanitizer with hand washing. It’s not a replacement. In fact, the best way to remove virtually all of the germs from your hands is literally to wash your hands with soap and water. Most hand sanitizers, especially if they are 60% alcohol or more, they can reduce a lot of the germs on the surface of your hands. But, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they found that the sanitizers, while they remove most of the germs, still miss certain viruses such as the Norovirus. You just cannot be completely sure. Carrying around that hand sanitizer it’s a great way to supplement hand washing. After you wash your hands, maybe you do touch the handle leaving the restroom at the restaurant, use the hand sanitizer or use the hand sanitizer directly after you wash your hands. It’s just one more way to make sure that you’re limiting the germs. Keep in mind, if your hands are super soiled with grit or grime from outside or food particles from the kitchen, there is no way that you can use hand sanitizer to alleviate those germs. You just absolutely have to wash your hands with soap and water.

Melanie:  Now, let’s talk about surfaces and even utensils that we use for cooking since this is Eat Right Radio and cooking is a big thing for our listeners. We’ve got tools, things that we are using to cook with, knives and spoons. Now, these things are getting bacteria on them and we’re doing cross-contamination, cutting one meat and then using it for vegetables or even cross contaminating vegetables that might have been exposed to E-coli. What do we do about our surfaces and our cutting utensils and keeping those clean and sanitized?

Libby:  Absolutely. It’s so important to wash your hands after you are changing tasks, particularly in the kitchen, especially when handling things like raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. You can’t assume that just washing your hands is going to be enough. Those surfaces, utensils, those plates where you lay the food out – those are all items that are going to become contaminated and equally deserve a good washing. Not just your hands deserve that. These surfaces deserve the same kind of washing. The best way to do it is anything that can go into the dish washer, you should do that. Set your dish washer on a hot washing and drying cycle. That’s going to sanitize things like dishwasher safe cutting boards, utensils, but things like knives or platters that perhaps that might be a family heirloom that aren’t dishwasher safe, these are things that you want to wash in as warm and soapy water as you can, rinse them well. As a good precaution, you can mix up your own sanitizing liquid. It’s so easy. All you need to do is put one tablespoon of aroma-free liquid chlorine bleach into one gallon of water and mix that up. You want to keep that in, obviously, a pretty good size container – a gallon container - with it labeled. This is something that you can use to clean surfaces like your countertops and other surfaces like cutting boards after they’ve been washed. This is also a solution that you can use after you wash those surfaces like the platter or perhaps the knives that have come in contact with raw meat. You’ve washed them. You’ve rinsed them. Now, you can dip them into this sanitizing solution as just an extra precaution. It’s really easy to mix up, really easy to keep around. You do want to keep it labeled if you’re keeping something like that in your kitchen so that it doesn’t get misused.

Melanie:  It’s great information, Libby. it really is. People need to hear this at this time of the year and really all year round--the importance of hand washing, the importance of keeping your surfaces wiped down and clean and the utensils that you use to cook it so that you are not cross-contaminating bacteria. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio with our great friends from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, you can go to That’s This is Melanie Cole. Thanks for listening and stay well.