News story

PHE issues a reminder of the importance of handwashing on Global Handwashing Day

What have ice cubes, sesame seeds and festival wrist bands got in common?

A hand in infra red lighting

PHE reports these are all items that have all tested positive for the presence of ‘E.coli’ bacteria which indicates faecal contamination.

That is why PHE is issuing a reminder to everyone today on Global Handwashing Day (15 October) of the importance of washing their hands – particularly after going to the toilet.

The presence of ‘E.coli’ bacteria on any surface is a sign of faecal contamination and any gastrointestinal infection caused by ‘E.coli’ is a result of ingesting faecal bacteria from a human being or an animal. Infections caused by this bacteria can be very serious with symptoms ranging from mild gastroenteritis to severe bloody diarrhoea.

Washing the hands regularly using soap and water can minimise the risk of spreading harmful bacteria to other people as well as reducing the individual risk of becoming unwell, as the likelihood of ingesting harmful bacteria is reduced.

Previous studies have shown faecal contamination on a wide variety of surfaces including:

  • bank notes
  • hands
  • kitchen taps
  • sesame seeds
  • cleaning cloths
  • bar snacks
  • shopping bags
  • computer keyboards
  • mobile phones
  • wrist bands
  • ice cubes
  • preparation surfaces in mobile kitchens

Dr Bob Adak, head of the gastrointestinal diseases department at Public Health England (PHE), said:

No-one would wilfully want to touch or eat faeces but that is what millions of us are doing every day by not washing our hands. Many diseases are spread through faecal matter so if we all improved our hygiene this could prevent many infections and stop people becoming unwell.

Today, on Global Handwashing Day, we need to remind ourselves that we all need to wash our hands thoroughly using soap and water and then dry them. This is particularly important before preparing food and eating and especially after going to the toilet or changing a nappy as you have double the amount of bugs on your hands after using the loo.

If you want to see the correct technique for washing your hands, see this video which is slowed down so you can see every step. The video lasts 1 minute 18 seconds.

Handwashing technique video.


Notes to editors

  1. The strain of E.coli that causes food poisoning is called ‘E.coli’ O157 and the most important strain which causes illness in people is called Vero cytotoxin-producing ‘E. coli’ (VTEC). Symptoms of this disease can range from mild gastroenteritis to severe bloody diarrhoea. The most serious complications can lead to blood poisoning and kidney failure.
  2. Details of the studies: * Bank note study * Mobile phone study * Ice cube study: A 2003 study from PHE’s Specialist and Reference Microbiology Division found faecal bacteria in 44% of samples from ice buckets and machines taken from restaurants. * Mobile food vendors study * Dish cloth study * Sesame seeds study * Keyboards study * Festival wristband study * Shopping bags study * Kitchen taps study * Bar snacks study
  3. Public Health England’s mission is to protect and improve the nation’s health and to address inequalities through working with national and local government, the NHS, industry and the voluntary and community sector. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk

Infections press office

PHE press office, infections
61 Colindale Avenue

Published 15 October 2013