97 Percent of Americans Are Washing Their Hands Totally Wrong


Like tying your shoes and brushing your teeth, washing your hands is one of those rudimentary life skills that you probably mastered before your fifth birthday. Or at least that's what you'd like to believe. The reality is, though, you've been royally botching your mitt-washing for your entire goddamn life, at least judging by a new government study that says a whopping 97% of Americans are doing it all wrong.

According to a new report from the USDA, an overwhelming majority of people aren't washing their hands for nearly long enough, many people don't even bother to wet them at all, and too many don't dry them with a clean towel. In other words: it's bad.

To determine just how wrong our collective hand hygiene practices are, researchers watched over 380 people prepare food in various test kitchens around North Carolina. Ostensibly, the study was conducted to observe how well participants adhered to food safety guidelines by monitoring how they used a meat thermometer when tasked with preparing turkey burgers and salads. However, it also allowed for researchers to get an authentic look at peoples' hand-washing habits.  

In terms of how exactly people are failing at such a seemingly simple task, the researchers found that 80% of the time, people weren't washing with soap for the recommended duration of 20 seconds. Beyond that, 40% of the time people didn't even wet their hands with water. The researchers also spiked the turkey burgers with a harmless tracer bacteria in order to monitor the incidence of cross-contamination. In that regard, they found that spice containers were contaminated 48% of the time, and refrigerator handles were contaminated 11% of the time, all due to the fact that people weren't washing correctly.

Just in case you aren't sure what the proper technique is, the USDA recommends a simple five-step regimen that involves scrubbing your hands -- front and back -- for 20 seconds under clean water before rinsing and drying them with a clean towel or air dryer.

Now go forth and stay clean and healthy, people.


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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.