You Can Cut Hand-Washing Time in Half

Joy Montgomery
June 3, 2017

Scientists have poured cold water on the theory that only a hot bath of shower gets you clean.

The US researchers say there was no significant difference in how much bacteria were eliminated between those who washed their hands at the hottest temperature and those who used the cooler water.

The study was small, enlisting only 21 participants, who agreed to have copious amounts of (harmless) bacteria put on their hands many times over the span of six months. Moreover, further study is required on amount of soap, its type and the proper techniques of to remove harmful micro-organisms from the hands.

The findings are in line with United Kingdom and global advice that washing your hands with soap in either warm or cold water amounts to good protection from food poisoning, colds and flu.

Prof. Donald Schaffner and his team of researchers say their study could help cut down wasted energy used for heating water for handwashing in food establishments where the FDA strictly enforces the regulation.

He also points out that this is the minimum amount of time the authors are recommending for hand washing-and that some circumstances may call for longer washes.

The study in the Journal of Food Protection compared what happened to bacteria on the hands of 10 men and 10 women when they washed their hands in water of varying temperatures - 15.5C (60F), 26.1C (79F) and 37.8C (100F).

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The temperature required to wipe out the bacteria would cause severe burns.

These findings are significant, particularly to the restaurant and food industry, because the US Food and Drug Administration issues guidelines every four years, researchers said.

Antibacterial soap was more effective than ordinary soap, the study finds. Water was used in 60 -degree, 79-degree or 100-degree temperature with 1 ml or 2 ml volumes of soap.

Those guidelines now recommend that plumbing systems at food establishments and restaurants deliver water at over 37 degrees Celsius for hand-washing, they said.

"I think this study indicates that there should be a policy change", said Schaffner.

'Instead of having a temperature requirement, the policy should only say that comfortable or warm water needs to be delivered.

Scientists at Rutgers University-New Brunswick wanted to test if the popular assumptions on the benefits of using hot water, and the official guidelines on hot water use in the U.S. food industry, were true. "Does it give us the definitive answer about hand washing?"

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