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Prairie Fare: Hand Washing Is Critical for Preventing Illness

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider proper hand washing one of the most important ways to help prevent us from getting sick.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Mom, you didn’t wash your hands long enough,” my 8-year-old daughter announced as I stood by the kitchen sink.

“But,” I began to respond before she continued her lesson.

“You said that we are supposed to wash our hands for 20 seconds, and I was counting. You didn’t wash your hands that long,” she lectured.

In my defense, I was about to load the dishwasher with dirty dishes after dinner, but she didn’t know that. Granted, my hands weren’t clean enough to prepare a salad. I wasn’t going to debate the issue with my adamant third-grader.

“OK, I will wash them again,” I said. As I scrubbed, we counted to 20 fairly slowly. After I loaded the dishwasher, I sang the happy birthday song to myself twice as I washed my hands again. My daughter nodded in approval.

I hope she realizes that I will be keeping tabs on her hand washing, too.

As we enter the cold and flu season, hand washing is of critical importance. In fact, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider proper hand washing one of the most important ways to help prevent us from getting sick.

Try this two-part activity. For part one, you will need a watch or clock with a second hand. You can do the activity at a sink or you can pantomime the steps wherever you are.

First, wet your hands and then apply soap. Save water by turning off the faucet. Now rub your hands together and time yourself for 20 seconds. Scrub between your fingers around any rings you are wearing. Because people often miss their fingernails and thumbs, be sure to focus attention on those areas. Keep scrubbing.

You might be surprised that 20 seconds may be longer than you might expect. Now you can rinse and dry your hands.

Here’s part two of the activity. Before continuing to read, pause and name five or more times when you always should wash your hands.

According to health experts, these are some times we always should wash our hands:

  • After using the restroom
  • Before, during and after preparing food (any time when you contaminate your hands)
  • Before eating
  • After handling garbage
  • After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
  • After playing with animals
  • Before putting in contact lenses
  • After changing a baby’s diaper
  • After cleaning a litter box or cleaning up after a pet
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound

Unfortunately, some people say they are washing their hands, but a sizeable number of people skip hand washing while they are in public places.

The Soap and Detergent Association and the American Society for Microbiology commissioned a phone survey of 1,001 people in 2007. About 92 percent of the respondents said they always washed their hands after using a public restroom.

They also conducted an observational study of 6,076 adults in several public places in four cities, including Grand Central Station in New York City, Turner Field in Atlanta, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and Ferry Terminal Farmers Market in San Francisco.

When people were observed in restrooms in these places, 77 percent actually washed their hands.

Don’t skip the sink. You might want to carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60 percent alcohol) for the times you plan to eat but are not near hand-washing facilities.

Stay well. Besides regular hand washing, get regular physical activity and enough sleep. Nourish your body with a balanced, varied diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Here’s a vitamin C-rich soup recipe from the Arizona Nutrition Network.

Broccoli-Potato Soup

4 c. chopped broccoli (or substitute frozen)

1 small onion, chopped

4 c. chicken broth, low sodium

1 c. nonfat milk

1 c. mashed potatoes*

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup cheese, shredded cheddar or American

Combine broccoli, onion and broth in large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Be sure not to overcook the broccoli. Cover and simmer about seven to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add milk to soup. Slowly stir in mashed potatoes. Cook while stirring constantly until the soup is bubbly and thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in a little more milk or water if the soup starts to become too thick. Ladle into serving bowls. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of cheese over each serving.

(* In place of mashed potatoes, you can use leftover cooked or baked potatoes. Simply mash them before adding them to the soup. You may need to increase the amount of milk you add.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 200 calories, 6 grams (g) of fat, 25 g of carbohydrate, 350 milligrams of sodium, 30 percent of the daily recommendation for calcium and a full day’s supply of vitamin C.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Nov. 3, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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