Standard Pages (they don't change often)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Invest in the simplest thing

As diners and cooks, an activity we must all judiciously participate in is washing our hands. Be it dining on Ethiopian food, or making futomaki, ensuring clean hands can make the difference between an enjoyable experience or a life endangering one. But even hand washing has a number of myths involved, and centers around two intersecting options:

1. Hot water vs cold water
2. Paper towels or air dryers (like the fancy new Dyson model pictured above)

There are remarkably few unbiased independent studies on the most effective way to wash hands, however, the consensus is that the temperature of the water does little to the microbes on your skin, although it can affect how much longer you are willing to keep washing. For the most part, using water heated to high enough temperatures to actually kill germs will likely cook your hands as well. Moreover, the use of antibacterial soaps is not really that useful, as the basic action of plain soap and moving water has the highest effect. What is happening is that the most common antibacterial compound, triclosan, isn't readily biodegradable, and ends up being distributed everywhere, thus bacterial resistance to triclosan is now very high in the wild. But that is probably a topic for another day.

There is an urban myth about the use of blower dryers only serves to spread bacteria around. This Snopes article on the myths of hand washing should help settle that. In effect, most studies that purport to demonstrate the increased effectiveness of paper towels are funded by paper towel companies, and vice versa for studies advocating hand dryers. The few independent studies point to the fact that as long as your hands are dried, each method is about as effective as the other.

In short, it's a wash.

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