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Food Safety Feature Articles


Keeping hands clean for summer eating

Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


Child washing hands with soap and water, the best option if water is availableIts summer and you’re busy with picnics, camping and outside fun. If hand washing is not possible (no running water, soap, etc.), what is the next best option for cleaning hands before eating or handling food?


Washing hands with running water and soap and drying with a single-use towel is by far the best option. If your hands are visibly dirty, the next best option would be moist towelettes rather than hand sanitizers. Moist towelettes (even something like baby wipes) can help to remove soil/grease/food remnants from hands. The mess can be rubbed away from your hands and will stay on the moist towelette. You could then follow up with hand sanitizer once your hands are free of visible dirt, as hand sanitizers are not effective at all if your hands have dirt/grime on them. Further, hand sanitizers are not effective against bacterial spores and certain viruses, which are important for food safety.


Once the visible mess is removed, alcohol-based hand sanitizers — which don’t require water — are an excellent alternative to hand washing, particularly when soap and water aren’t available. Not all hand sanitizers are created equal, though. Some waterless hand sanitizers don’t contain alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends choosing products that contain at least 60 percent alcohol. Make sure you apply about 1/2 teaspoon of the product to the palm of your hand, then rub your hands together, covering all surfaces of your hands, until they're dry.


For more information on food safety, contact your local MU Extension Center.



  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • ABC News
  • University of Guelph
  • Fairfax County (VA) public schools
  • Journal of Food Protection


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Last update: Friday, July 18, 2014