By Kirk T. Schroder, Ellwood's Food Advocate

Let’s cut to two important take-aways from this blog before we discuss the pros and cons of hand sanitizers. Here they are:

  1. Washing with plain soap and running water remains one of the most important steps consumers can take to avoid getting sick and to prevent spreading germs to others.
  2. If soap and water are not available, then use hand sanitizer instead, however, make sure that the hand sanitizer is an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention after extensive studies on the topic states:

Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.

And according to the CDC, here’s the most effective and best way to wash your hands:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap; next,
  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; next,
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice; and
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water; and finally,
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them thoroughly. (The CDC notes that germs pass easily through wet hands).

When soap and water are unavailable, many consumer use hand sanitizers especially while on the go. However, while still recommended for use in when soap and water are unavailable, some manufacturers of hand sanitizers can overstate the effectiveness of hand sanitizers against viruses and bacteria. This past January, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning letter to GOJO Industries, the manufacturer of Purell Hand Sanitizers, stating that the FDA said it is not aware of any studies that show that killing or decreasing the number of bacteria or viruses on the skin produces a reduction in infection or disease caused by bacteria or viruses.

If you have to use a hand sanitizer instead of soap and water, remember these two points:

  1. Avoid non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and
  2. Hand sanitizers do not help really dirty hands.
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