September is National Food Safety Education Month®, an annual campaign designed to heighten consumer awareness about the importance of food safety education. Developed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation's (NRAEF) International Food Safety Council, a new theme is presented each year that reinforces proper food safety practices. This year's theme is "Keep Hands Clean with Good Hygiene." While this advice may seem elementary, some people obviously need reminding, because unwashed hands are a primary cause of foodborne illness.

While some causes of food-related diseases are beyond our control, we can control our personal hygiene and handwashing is the single most effective way to prevent foodborne illness. Motivation to perform this simple task may be heightened if you consider that disease-causing microorganisms (E. coli, hepatitis A, infectious diarrhea) can be found on almost any frequently touched surface (doorknobs, telephones, keyboards, grocery carts, etc.). A situation as simple as touching a contaminated surface and then preparing a sandwich could result in illness. Therefore, always wash your hands before preparing or eating a meal or snack. Conversely, germs can be transmitted from foods to your hands or other foods, so always wash your hands before, during and after handling raw meat, chicken, seafood or eggs.

If you think handwashing does not warrant instruction, think again. Because you cannot see the germs that can make you sick, thorough handwashing is the only way to assure that your hands are clean. So, the next time you step up to the sink, consider the following simple steps.

  • Wet hands with warm water and apply liquid or clean bar soap.

  • Rub hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces. Remember to wash the backs of hands and fingers, in between the fingers, tips of fingers and the palms.

  • Continue for 20-30 seconds or about the length of a little tune (for example, the "Happy Birthday" song).

  • Rinse well.

  • Dry hands with a clean paper towel.

  • Turn off faucet with towel.

Sadly, it is estimated that one out of three people do not wash their hands after using the restroom.1 If you are one of the diligent handwashers, keep up the good work! But, if you typically bypass the soap and water because your hands don't "look dirty," let me remind you that some pretty serious diseases may be averted simply by washing your hands. Remember, people with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk for obtaining a foodborne illness. So, for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, handwashing is the easiest and most important thing you can do to prevent getting sick.

I encourage you to check out any of the numerous Internet resources that provide food safety education, or simply call ATI for more information at (404) 659-2437. Take matters into your own hands and learn how to protect yourself from foodborne illnesses.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Infectious Diseases. "An Ounce of Prevention: Keeps the Germs Away." Accessed July 14, 2005.