Wash Your Hands, Not Food Packages

Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While wintery weather can bring with it dry, chapped hands, experts continue to recommend hand washing as one of the most effective means of helping to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

Experts believe that the coronavirus should not be considered a food safety hazard and increasing evidence suggests that consumers do not need to disinfect food packages.  Some early studies showed that the coronavirus could linger on surfaces for days, but these studies used large viral loads and were under laboratory conditions, not real world conditions.  Other tests looked for remnants of the virus, not live virus participles capable of infecting people.  The coronavirus is surprisingly fragile and doesn’t survive easily outside the body.  And there are no test results suggesting that live virus particles can be transferred from a surface into the mouth or nose, infecting humans.

For a person to become ill from the coronavirus left on a surface, a sequence of events would have to happen: there would have to be enough virus surviving on the surface and the person touching the surface would have to pick up enough live virus and touch their contaminated hands to virus receptors in the nose or back of the throat.

Despite the billions of meals consumed and food packages handled since the beginning of the pandemic, there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging, or food handling is a source or transmission route for the virus.  If you have been routinely wiping or washing food packages, consider dialing back this winter.  Focus on hand washing instead!

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.  Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin, and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap, which further removes germs.  To date, studies have shown that there is no added health benefit for consumers using soaps containing antibacterial ingredients compared with using plain soap.
  • 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.  Lathering and scrubbing hands creates friction, which helps lift dirt, grease, and microbes from skin.  Microbes are present on all surfaces of the hand, often in particularly high concentration under the nails, so the entire hand should be scrubbed.  Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.  Need a timer?  Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end, twice.  Evidence suggests that washing hands for about 15-30 seconds removes more germs from hands than washing for shorter periods.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.  Soap and friction help lift dirt, grease, and microbes—including disease-causing germs—from skin so they can then be rinsed off of hands.  Rinsing the soap away also minimizes skin irritation.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.  Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands; therefore, hands should be dried after washing.
  • If your skin is irritated in the colder winter weather, apply hand cream when you wash hands after using the bathroom or after cooking.  A hand cream or lotion can help lock in moisture and make it more likely that you will wash your hands as  often as recommended.

Stay well and food safe!

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Authored by: BARBARA H INGHAM
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