Food Safety: It’s in Your Hands

When preparing food, one of the most important ways to avoid spreading germs is to wash hands correctly and often. This may seem like common sense; however, many individuals don’t wash their hands for the recommended length of time, nor do they wash their hands each time they’re contaminated. Did you know handwashing should take approximately 20 seconds overall?

Steps to Wash Hands:

  1. Wet hands. Use warm running water.
  2. Apply soap and lather hands.
  3. Scrub hands for 10–15 seconds. Hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice or watch the second hand of a clock. Focus on scrubbing between fingers and under fingernails.
  4. Rinse thoroughly under running water.
  5. Dry hands with a paper towel or air dry. Bacteria numbers increase in damp cloth towels.

We can become less aware of the many times our hands become contaminated. Remember to wash hands after using the restroom; coughing; sneezing; running your fingers through your hair; touching or scratching a wound; petting your dog or cat; changing a diaper; handling money; working with raw meat, poultry, or seafood; and anytime hands touch something that may contaminate them.

For more information, visit or search for “5 Myths of Handwashing” and “Wash Your Hands” at the Extension Store,

Home Food Safety Mythbusters

washing lettuceMyth: “It is OK to wash bagged greens if I want to. There’s no harm!”

Fact: Rinsing leafy greens that are ready to eat (those labeled “washed,” “triple washed,” or “ready to eat”) will not enhance safety and could actually increase the potential for cross-contamination. This means harmful bacteria from your hands or kitchen surfaces could find their way onto the greens while washing them.

Myth: “I don’t need to rinse this melon for safety. The part I eat is on the inside!”

Fact: A knife or peeler passing through the rind can carry harmful bacteria from the outside into the flesh of the melon. The rind also touches edible portions when cut fruit is arranged or stacked for serving and garnish. Rinse melons under running tap water while rubbing with your hands or scrubbing with a clean brush. Dry the melon with a clean cloth or paper towel.

Myth: “Be sure to rinse or wash raw chicken, turkey, or other poultry before cooking it!”

Fact: Rinsing poultry is an unsafe practice because contaminated water may splash and spread bacteria to other foods and kitchen surfaces.

Myth: “Cross-contamination doesn’t happen in the refrigerator…it’s too cold in there for germs to survive!”

Fact: Some harmful bacteria can survive and even grow in cool, moist environments. Keep fresh produce separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. For tips on how to clean and disinfect your refrigerator, go to


Choosing, Washing, and Storing Fresh Produce

Find out what to look for when purchasing fresh vegetables, the proper way to store them to maintain freshness, and what’s in season in ISU Extension’s publication, Fresh Vegetable Guide.

To prevent foodborne illness, you need to wash fresh produce whether it’s from the grocery store, farmers’ market, or your garden. Most produce does not need to be washed until it is ready to prepare or eat.

  • Start by washing your hands with soap and water.
  • The best way to remove dirt and germs is to wash produce thoroughly with running, drinkable water.
  • When washing heads of lettuce or cabbage, you need to loosen dirt. Remove and discard the outer leaves before rubbing gently under cool, running water. Bagged greens that have been washed before packaging do not need to be rewashed.
  • Fruits and vegetables that have firm surfaces, such as melons or potatoes, should be scrubbed with a clean brush. Wash all produce even if you aren’t going to eat the skins. Dirt on the surface can pass to the edible parts.
  • Do not use soap, vinegar, baking soda, chlorine bleach, or special washes to clean fruit or vegetables.

FDA also offers a great resource on safe handling of raw produce.

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