Fewer than one in five adults wash and dry their hands properly, a major new study on hand hygiene found.
A report by Safefood found that while 93% of adults perform some hygiene after going to the toilet, only 17% carry out an adequate level of personal hygiene when using facilities in childcare, public and food business settings.
It also showed that men are more likely to practice poor hand hygiene than women.
Adequate hand hygiene is defined as washing hands for 20 seconds using soap and water, followed by 15 seconds using a hand dryer.
Safefood – the all-island body responsible for the promotion of food safety in the Republic and Northern Ireland – said the general level of compliance with hand hygiene was poor, while few facilities contained information or visual reminders about the need to wash and dry hands for an adequate period of time.
The research on almost 500 adults was carried out at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when there was considerable emphasis on hand hygiene as a public health measure.
However, the outbreak of Covid-19 restricted researchers from monitoring hand hygiene practice in restrooms using thermal imaging cameras in a wider range of locations.
The survey showed 10% of males carried out no hand hygiene after going to the toilet, compared to 4.5% of women.
Just over a third of all adults washed their hands with both soap and water for in excess of 20 seconds but only 17% washed and dried their hands for the recommended length of time,
The survey also found that 11% of adults did not dry their hands, while 2% dried them on their clothes.
The average length of time spent washing hands was 18.7 seconds, with an average of 13.5 seconds spent drying hands.
A separate analysis of surfaces in public restrooms, including door handles and hand dryers, were mostly clean and showed no significant evidence of contamination.
Sink and hand dryer facilities in most locations were regarded as suitable, appropriate and well maintained.
Safefood said the findings demonstrated the need for improvement in the amount of time adults spend washing and drying their hands.
“The knowledge and importance of good hand hygiene practice needs improving across the island of Ireland,” it added.
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