Handwashing: A Healthy Habit in the Kitchen

Person washing hands with soap and water

Handwashing is 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 while handling and preparing foods.

Why, When, and How to Wash Hands

Wash your hands often while cooking to keep germs off your food and help you and loved ones stay healthy. Washing your hands often and correctly while you’re cooking can help prevent cross-contamination. Your hands carry germs you can’t see, and these germs can be introduced to your food while you are preparing it.

Handwashing is especially important during some key times when germs can spread easily:

  • Before, during, and after preparing any food.
  • After handling uncooked meat, chicken or other poultry, seafood, flour, or eggs.
  • Before and after using gloves to prevent germs from spreading to your food and your hands.
  • Before eating.
  • After touching garbage.
  • After wiping counters or cleaning other surfaces with chemicals.
  • After touching pets, pet food, or pet treats.
  • After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.

In a recent observational study by USDA, participants failed to wash their hands correctly 97 percent of the time. Nearly half of the participants cross-contaminated spice containers because they didn’t wash their hands adequately.

Five Steps to Handwashing

Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs when done correctly. Use your preferred water temperature—cold or warm—to wash your hands. Warm and cold water remove the same number of germs from your hands.

To get the full benefit of handwashing, follow these five steps every time.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Don’t let germs ruin your food plans. Make handwashing a healthy habit while preparing food for yourself and your loved ones!

Page last reviewed: July 18, 2022