Why do you need to wash your hands?

Why should you wash your hands?

Throughout the day your hands come into contact with numerous different objects. The germs picked up from other people, contaminated surfaces, food and animals will build up on your hands and be transferred into your body by touching your nose or mouth. The simple act of washing your hands with soap and water or with a hand sanitiser significantly reduces your chances of picking up germs such as the common cold, flu, and many gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and vomiting.

A survey organised by Dr Greg Simmons, Auckland Medical Officer of Health showed that the New Zealand public are not washing their hands effectively (http://www.nzfsa.govt.nz/publications/food-focus/2008-02/page-13.htm). The survey showed that 92% of women and 81% of men made an attempt to wash their hands after toileting and only 71% of these used soap. These statistics are frightening. If we don't wash our hands correctly we are transferring a multitude of germs to our family, friends, co-workers and the wider community. Using water alone is not an effective means of washing your hands.

It is estimated that it costs New Zealand business around $2 billion a year in staff illness, injury and absenteeism.

Keeping staff and visitors healthy has to be a priority in any business, particularly with the onset of new illnesses such as the Swine Flu H1N1. Hand washing, when done correctly is the single most important means of reducing your chances of getting sick. Click here for hand washing procedures.

What is it costing your business to have sick staff, either away for the day or working at half pace? A simple and effective hygiene system in place at work will save you time and money!

What is a germ?

Behind every cold and flu symptom is a germ. Bacteria, viruses and infectious organisms are everywhere around us. They float in the air, are on our food, in our water and soil, on plants and animals and yes on our bodies too!

Many of these germs can’t harm us as our immune system effectively protects us from them. However there are many others we need to be aware of. Food borne illnesses are frequently caused by lack of hand hygiene. Food poisoning organisms are found on areas of the body that are warm and moist, particularly the hair, face/nose, hands (under nails), skin, mouth, spots and blemishes, cuts and scratches. 


Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterial species that is normally present on the skin. Food handlers who don’t take the necessary hand washing precautions risk passing bacteria onto food and causing food poisoning.

Hand washing when dealing with Food Hygiene

Hand hygiene is vital for food safety! One of the leading causes of foodborne illneses is lack of personal hygiene, with the most important factor being hand washing.

Germ contamination occurs through 3 main sources, containation after going to the toilet, touching raw poultry and meat and dirty utensils, as well as infected cuts on hands and skin diseases.

Hand washing should always occur after:

  • Handling money
  • Handling the rubbish/garbage
  • Visiting the toilet
  • Smoking
  • Touching dirty surfaces
  • Touching wounds or infected areas on your skin
  • Sneezing or coughing or using a tissue
  • Handing raw food
  • Whenever you go into a food preparation area
  • After touching your face or hair
  • Never handle food if you are unwell specifically with vomiting or diarrhoea

Bacteria on food grows by dividing into 2 parts over and over again. In warm, wet conditions this can occur every 20 minutes, meaning that in 2 - 4 hours there may be  enough bacteria to cause food poisoning. One bacterium can turn into over 2 million it 7 hours (information sourced from North Shore City Council 'Basic Hygiene course' booklet) This bacteria can easily be transferred onto food through poorly washed hands.

Hand washing when wearing gloves.

Wearing latex and vinyl gloves will often give people a false sense of security. Hands must be washed throughly or sanitised with hand santiser before gloves are applied. This is important as you will be touching the gloves when fitting them and it also prevents problems if the gloves tear and you accidentally  touch the food. Pathogens can also pass from your hands through gloves and onto food.

When wearing gloves people often forget to change them between doing things like handling rubbish or money or touching their face. Glove wearers are also less likely to wash their hands as they don't feel 'dirty'. Hands often sweat in gloves creating a breeding ground for bacteria.






Why should you wash your hands?

Hand sanitiser, foaming soap, liquid soap, commercial soap, natural soap, hand sanitizers