If you’re preparing food, chances are that you’re not properly washing your hands.
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a study that found 97 percent of people don’t properly wash their hands when preparing food, which can lead to cross-contamination and ultimately raise the risk of contracting food poisoning. As WFSB noted, the study found that most people are simply too rushed to properly clean up.
“As a mother of three young children, I am very familiar with the mad dash families go through to put dinner on the table,” said Carmen Rottenberg, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the USDA. “You can’t see, smell or feel bacteria. 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.”
Failing to properly wash hands leads to other kitchen items being contaminated, the study found. Many people in the study ended up spreading bacteria to spice containers, refrigerator handles, and even salads. The study found other common risky habits when preparing food, including failure to use a meat thermometer to make sure that the food has reached a safe temperature.
As USA Today noted, foodborne illnesses are a widespread problem, though they can often be prevented by taking some precautionary steps. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 48 million Americans are sickened each year by foodborne illnesses, with 128,000 ending up in the hospital and 3,000 people dying from these illnesses.
This is not the first study to find that improper hygiene habits can pose a serious health hazard. As USA Today reported in 2017, experts say that improperly storing a toothbrush near a toilet can lead to a person being contaminated with fecal bacteria every time they brush.
“There are real concerns, if you have it in the bathroom,” said Miryam Wahlram, author of The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World. “As you flush the toilet it, you expose your toothbrush to germs from the fecal matter.”
As the report noted, the American Dental Association says people should rinse their toothbrush with tap water after every use and let it air dry. Toothbrushes should not be covered, especially when they are still wet, as this allows bacteria to grow, the report stated.
The USDA study also offered guidelines on how to properly wash your hands before a meal or while preparing food. The agency said people should wash for a full 20 seconds, followed by drying them using a clean and dry towel.