A Simple Way You Can Prevent Infection and Illness


Sarah Lichtman is a member of the Food Safety Education Staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

It’s September, and the kids are back in school. There is a lesson that’s just as important as learning to read and write that your children should be learning.share on twitter Do you know what it is? It’s proper hand washing. Children who know how to properly wash their hands can help prevent the spread of germs and bacteria that can make them, and possibly others, sick. Hand washing is one of the simplest, most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness, including foodborne illness. No one wants germs from the classroom to end up on their dinner plate.

Make proper hand washing a healthy routine by making it fun for children. Turn hand washing into a party at the sink by getting the whole family involved. Just be sure everyone follows these simple steps:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Singing the happy birthday song twice should take about 20 seconds. Have children sing the song (twice!) to the person whose birthday is coming up next.

  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or paper towel, or air-dry them.

This method is the best way to get your hands clean, but if you don’t have access to water, you can use disposable wipes or hand sanitizer instead. Although these are an acceptable alternative, hand sanitizer and wipes do not always remove or neutralize certain kinds of germs, especially if the hands are dirty or greasy. Whenever possible, use soap and water as your first choice.  

Make hand washing a habit for your kids:

  • Before helping in the kitchen or sitting down to eat a meal

  • After handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs

  • After touching animals, including household pets

  • After using the bathroom

  • After blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing

  • Before and after touching a wound

  • Before and after coming into contact with someone who is sick

Everyone is at risk for foodborne illnesses, but people undergoing cancer treatment are at greater risk of more serious illness because their immune systems can be weakened by the disease and the treatment. When you teach your kids proper hand washing, you can help prevent the spread of bacteria and keep everyone healthy. 



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