Hand washing matters – home & away- NI release

  • Issued on behalf of safefood, the Food Standards Agency and Belfast City Council
  • A quarter of respondents to a recent survey in Northern Ireland were found to have potentially harmful bacteria on their hands after using a public toilet

7 June, 2005. This is one of the key findings of a survey by safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board and the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSANI) and Northern Ireland’s Councils to mark this year’s National Food Safety Week (13-19 June), which is focusing on the importance of hand washing to prevent food poisoning and gastroenteritis.

The survey indicated that over 90% of those tested claimed to wash their hands after using a public toilet. However, microbiological tests were used to analyse their hands which indicated that 25% were carrying potentially harmful bacteria. This finding strongly suggests that either their hands had been washed inadequately or not at all. In addition over 60% of respondents to the same survey admitted that they don’t always wash their hands before eating outside the home.

Dr David McCleery, Chief Specialist in Microbiology for safefood explains the impact of these results: “Potentially harmful bacteria may remain on our hands if we don’t wash them properly. We can’t see these bacteria but the risk is very real as they can be easily transferred from hands to food, which may result in infection for those who then eat it.

“It is important to take the opportunity of National Food Safety Week to remind everyone that hand washing is one of the most effective ways of preventing the spread of harmful bacteria. It is essential that hands are washed properly after using the toilet and before preparing and eating food to prevent food borne diseases.”

Trevor Williamson, Principal Environmental Health Officer, FSANI explains the correct way to wash your hands: “Our survey clearly shows that while we may think our hands are clean, many of us are not washing them properly. You need warm water and soap and a good, thorough hand wash should take more than 15 seconds. Thorough drying is also essential as damp or wet hands are a great breeding ground for bacteria!”

Working in partnership with all 26 local councils, the Consumer Council and the Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association, National Food Safety Week is co-funded by safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board and the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSANI). Activities during the week will include the distribution of specially designed stickers by Councils, to food service businesses. The businesses will all be asked to place these in a prominent position in their public toilets.

Anyone requiring further information about National Food Safety Week or additional stickers should contact the safefood helpline on 0800 085 1683.


For further information please contact

Sarah Young/Claire Hutchinson
Citigate SMARTS
028 9039 5500

Notes to editors

1. Over 500 people at 27 locations across Northern Ireland took part in the National Food Safety Week survey. The microbiological tests were analysed at Department of Food Science, Queen’s University Belfast.