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There are just too many things living on our hands to wash all of them off.
Killing all the microbes on your hands has never even been the point of hand-washing. The point is to get as big a reduction in microbes as possible while balancing that effort with the demands of real life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to wash your hands for 20 seconds. The World Health Organization says hand-washing should take 40 to 60 seconds. And it's complicated to determine who is right.
The optimal length of time for hand-washing is likely to depend on many factors, including the type and amount of dirt on the hands and the setting of the person washing hands (temperature of water, washing technique, the type of soap, etc.)
Food safety researchers have to think in orders of magnitude, by necessity. Instead of aiming to completely wipe out a population of microbes, they’re trying to achieve a relative decrease as measured in orders of 10.
A 1-log reduction would be a 10-fold decrease — so, 90 percent fewer germs. A 2-log reduction is a 100-fold decrease — so 99 percent fewer germs — and 3-log is 1,000 times less, or 99.9 percent fewer. You get the picture.
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Effective handwashing consists of five simple steps: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry.
Do so for at least 20 seconds.