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Clean hands for health: a recipe for good hand hygiene

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 40% of foodborne illnesses are transmitted via germs on our hands. Moreover, a staggering 80% of communicable diseases are transferred by touch alone. When done properly, good hand hygiene can be one of the simplest and most effective ways to help you avoid getting sick.

October 15th is Global Handwashing Day, an annual global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness around this very issue. Understanding the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases, and making clear the link between handwashing and food is an integral part of this day. Initial recently commissioned some family research in support of Global Handwashing Day, and its theme ‘Clean hands – a recipe for health’, which aimed to highlight the importance of making handwashing a part of every meal.

The research involved taking swabs from 14 families across Malaysia, France, the UK, South Africa, and Spain, with results recorded twice a day, before breakfast and dinner. Both families were swabbed for two days using their normal handwashing routine, and two days using a robust step-by-step routine provided by Initial.

Half of families forget to wash their hands before meals

The recipe for clean hands

We know that clean hands are a recipe for health, but what’s the recipe for clean hands? The correct routine should allow for a minimum of 20 seconds, and includes the following steps:

Step 1. Wet hands and apply soap
Step 1. Wet hands and apply soap
Step 2. Rub hands together, palm to palm
Step 2. Rub hands together, palm to palm
Step 3.  Fingers interlaced, rub hands together, then right palm to back of left hand and vice versa
Step 3. Fingers interlaced, rub hands together, then right palm to back of left hand and vice versa
Step 4. Cusp back of fingers into opposing palm and rub side to side
Step 4. Cusp back of fingers into opposing palm and rub side to side
Step 5. Clasp each hand around opposing thumb and rub in a rotational manner
Step 5. Clasp each hand around opposing thumb and rub in a rotational manner
Step 6.  Rotational rubbing in both directions by placing fingertips of each hand in opposing palm
Step 6. Rotational rubbing in both directions by placing fingertips of each hand in opposing palm
Step 7. Rinse hands under running water
Step 7. Rinse hands under running water
Step 8. Dry hands thoroughly and sanitise
Step 8. Dry hands thoroughly and sanitise

It is important to note that water alone does not clean hands effectively, and that rinsing under running water offers the best chance of avoiding contamination.

Mealtimes: the perfect hand hygiene recipe for little ones

Like most things, good hand hygiene begins at home, and good habits begin in childhood. Children are naturally curious and exploring things by touch can cause their hands to become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. Indeed, recent research from Initial Hygiene found that even when children had a low swab count (under 500) on their hands, they still had 47% more than adults. However, good hand hygiene practice can improve hand hygiene levels by up to 79% for children, and 89% for adults.
Children learn by seeing and doing rather than just listening, so teaching them about handwashing should be interactive and fun – especially as it can also help with healthy development (CDC). Here are a few fun tips to form good hygiene habits as a family:

  • Use non-toxic, washable paints to create handprints to show how germs can be transmitted
  • Use those mucky hands to practice proper handwashing techniques together
  • Offer brightly coloured soaps in fun shapes
  • Join in! Wash your hands with your children to set a good example, so good hand hygiene habits can start to be built
  • Family life is busy – so try making a diary as a family of every time your children wash their hands for a week, to raise awareness and reward positive behaviour with treats or gold stars.
handwashing before meals can improve children's hand hygiene by 79%

Working lunch: bringing hand hygiene into the office

Hand hygiene is also a crucial factor in the workplace. Our busy working lives mean hygiene habits can sometimes slip. Previous research from Initial has found that as many as 1 in 4 office workers don’t wash their hands after using the washroom, and 35% will either read or browse articles online, without realising how this leads to cross-contamination of electronic devices that are always carried around with us. We are also more likely than ever to carry these germs back to our desk, and then eat our lunch in the same spot, making the following tips even more crucial to create a positive hand hygiene culture in the workplace:

  • Encourage good hand washing practices with awareness campaigns and notices in common areas and points-of-need
  • Ensure provisions such as soap and towels are always well stocked
  • Towels (whether paper or linen) are particularly important – hand drying helps minimise the spread of bacteria, and damp hands spread 1000 times more bacteria than dry
  • Taps and soap dispensers should also be cleaned regularly to help reduce surface cross-contamination or consider touch-free hand wash facilities
  • Improve the standards of washrooms, (e.g. malodour) to discourage visitors from leaving too early and missing out on handwashing
80% of infections are spread by hands

For businesses that serve food and drink, compliance can also be assured by introducing a hand hygiene cleaning regime with training for all staff on how to wash their hands correctly, and a glove policy with training procedures to educate staff on their use – as gloves are not always a fool proof method for hand hygiene.

Offices and other workplaces can also install sensors to calculate handwashing compliance and subconsciously nudge users into behaving correctly when they see the compliance percentages flash up on the display screen. Experiments have shown that this can reduce handwashing non-compliance by 50%.

Conclusion: it’s easier than you think

Despite the fact that families can sometimes forget about the importance of handwashing due to the general rush and busyness of day to day life, the recipe for good hand hygiene can be quick, and simple to implement and remember. Encouraging good hand hygiene at home and conveying its importance from an early age as part of a daily routine at school and at home will help to ensure that this practice becomes part of children’s lifelong habits. Similarly, encouraging better habits at work through the use of connected sensors can be an equally effective way of changing behaviours and workplace culture for the better and ensuring the recipe for good hand hygiene is one that’s used in the home and in work over and over again.

Please visit for more information, plus free handwashing tools and materials for your business.

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