Bad hand-washing habits are spreading unsafe bacteria, USDA warns

Most people don't wash their hands properly when preparing food

Phee on Unsplash At least 128,000 people are hospitalized — and 3,000 die — from foodborne illnesses in the U.S. annually

People are failing at basic measures, not washing their hands for 20 seconds as recommended, and not drying their hands with clean towels, the study says.

The most common issue, they found, was failing to rub hands with soap for the recommended 20 seconds, followed by not wetting hands with water.

For the study, the USDA team had 383 participants handle turkey meat laden with a harmless virus that is often used to substitute for norovirus in lab tests.

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When the researchers tested the surfaces in the test kitchens, they found the virus everywhere. "As a mother of three young children, I am very familiar with the mad dash families go through to put dinner on the table", Carmen Rottenberg, the USDA's Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, said in a news release.

"There were many, many times in the course of the study that people had the opportunity to wash their hands - almost 1,200 opportunities", Rottenberg told NBC News. They found that nearly half of participants contaminated spice containers, about 10% contaminated faucets or refrigerator handles and about 5% contaminated their cell phones or lettuce used in their salads.

Insufficient hand washing, especially after handling raw meat, can lead to the spread of germs that can cause foodborne illnesses.

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The USDA estimates 48 million Americans become sick each year from food-borne illnesses, resulting in about 128,000 trips to the hospital and 3,000 deaths. Almost half of those who did not wash their hands thoroughly after handling raw meat later contaminated salt and pepper shakers with bacteria from the meat.

"You can't see, smell or feel bacteria", Rottenberg said. "By simply washing your hands properly, you can protect your family and prevent that bacteria from contaminating your food and key areas in your kitchen".

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