There's a 99 Percent Chance You're Making This Hygiene Mistake, USDA Says

It's a dangerous and all-too-common mistake with a simple fix, says the CDC.

It's always a healthy habit to practice good hygiene, but right now—during a particularly dangerous wave of the coronavirus pandemic—cleanliness is especially crucial. That's why a recent warning from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) may come as particularly unwelcome surprise: Their experts say that the vast majority of us are making a major mistake when it comes to hygiene. In fact, 99 percent of Americans do this one essential thing wrong—and unless you're part of the 1 percent, it's putting you at increased risk of serious illness. Read on to find out which hygiene habit has earned nearly all of us a failing grade, and why it's so important to step up your game.

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The USDA says 99 percent of people do not properly wash their hands.

Person washing their hands in a sink

According to experts from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a branch of the USDA, 99 percent of people do not wash their hands properly. FSIS authorities warn that this presents a serious problem when it comes to food preparation, because the kitchen is known to spread dangerous germs, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, and more. "Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing food-borne illness," says the FSIS site.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also touts the importance of the practice, calling it "one of the most important things you can do to prevent food poisoning when preparing food for yourself or loved ones."

"Your hands can spread germs in the kitchen. Some of these germs, like Salmonella, can make you very sick. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water is an easy way to prevent germs from spreading around your kitchen and to other foods," their experts say.

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Here's how to finally get it right.

Person washing hands with soap

Washing your hands may seem simple, but evidently, most people miss the mark. The CDC says that the key to sufficient hand washing is to scrub for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water, wetting your hands first to work up a good lather. "Scientific studies show that you need to scrub for 20 seconds to remove harmful germs and chemicals from your hands. If you wash for a shorter time, you will not remove as many germs. Make sure to scrub all areas of your hands, including your palms, backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails," their experts advise.

After rinsing your hands clean under running water, be sure to dry your hands on a clean towel or with a touch-free air dryer. If your sink handle hasn't been cleaned in a while, you can use "a paper towel, your elbow, or another hands-free way" to turn off the water without re-contaminating your hands, suggests the CDC.

Knowing when to wash your hands is half the battle.

woman blowing her nose on the couch, signs your cold is serious

The USDA and CDC both say there are a few key scenarios in which washing your hands is non-negotiable. If you stop to wash in these moments, you can minimize the risk of spreading dangerous germs and contaminants.

First and foremost, be mindful to wash your hands before and after handling food (especially uncooked eggs, raw meat, poultry, or fish). The health authority also recommends giving them a 20-second scrub after using the bathroom, changing diapers, handling pets and their bowls, tending to a sick individual, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

When in doubt, there's virtually never a harm in washing your hands an extra time during food preparation—especially when you're preparing meals for others.

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One third of people make an even bigger hand-washing mistake.

Senior men and women cutting fresh raw vegetable in kitchen

In addition to 99 percent of people failing to wash properly, the CDC warns that 31 percent of Americans have an even bigger problem: failing to wash their hands at all before preparing food.

Experts at Insider say that this could lead to serious health consequences, as germs spread readily in the kitchen when we neglect to wash our hands. "Diarrhea-causing illnesses, like salmonella or giardiasis, are 30 percent more likely when you don't wash your hands," the publication notes. "You are 20 percent more likely to catch respiratory viruses, like influenzas, the common cold, and, of course, COVID-19, potentially leading to complications or even severe pneumonia. And then there's the norovirus. This severe stomach virus only needs a single particle to infect you. Influenzas need 50 to 100. So without hand washing, you're almost guaranteed to catch it sooner or later," Insider says.

The next time you make a meal, take a 20-second timeout before and after to give your hands a good scrub. By staying consistent in this one hygiene habit, you can stay much healthier as we enter a new year.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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