Back to Uni warning to students to wash their hands (17 February 2020)

As young people start to return to tertiary study the Food Safety Information Council has issued a warning that young people are failing the hand washing test.

Cathy Moir, Council Chair, said that correct hand washing is an important public health issue that can reduce the risk of food poisoning as well as preventing the spread of viral diseases such as colds, flu, gastro caused by Norovirus and the COVID19 Coronavirus infection.

‘Our recent, Australia-wide handwashing study showed that young people had the poorest understanding of correct handwashing. Only 69% of young people under 25 said they always washed their hands after going to the toilet and only 49% said they always washed their hands before handling food. This is a particular worry as students often also have a part time job as food handlers.

‘To reduce your risk of spreading bacteria and viruses around, always wash and dry your hands before handling, preparing and eating food. Wash hands particularly after touching raw meats and poultry, fish, shellfish, shell eggs or unwashed potatoes etc. Always wash your hands after using the toilet, blowing your nose or touching any infected wounds or sores.

‘To wash your hands correctly, wet your hands and rub them together well to build up a good lather with soap for at least 20 seconds, you can turn off the tap while doing this to save water. Don’t forget to wash between your fingers and under your nails and rinse well under running water. Then dry your hands thoroughly on a clean towel for at least 20 seconds. If no running water is available use alcohol gels or wipes, rubbing them all over your hands and allow your hands to air dry. Alcohol gel should not replace the need to wash soiled hands when soap and water is available.

‘We have a YouTube video showing how to wash your hands correctly We have also prepared a simple infographic which can be downloaded from here containing five simple tips, to ensure that you, and people you prepare food for, are protected from food poisoning:

  1. CLEAN – wash hands with soap and running water before handling food, wash the dishes regularly and keep the kitchen clean
  2. CHILL – keep the fridge at 5°C or below and clean it out regularly, refrigerate any leftovers as soon as they’ve stopped steaming and use or freeze them within 3 days
  3. COOK – use a thermometer and cook poultry, sausages or minced or stuffed meat dishes to 75°C in the centre, be aware of the risk of raw or minimally cooked egg dishes or look for the new pasteurised eggs. Follow any cooking instructions on the food packaging.
  4. SEPARATE – prevent cross contamination, especially between raw meat or poultry and other foods that won’t be cooked like ready to eat desserts and salads
  5. DON’T COOK FOR OTHERS IF YOU HAVE GASTRO – you could make them sick too so ask someone else to cook or get a takeaway.

‘We encourage universities, colleges and student bodies to share this advice with students,’ Ms Moir concluded.

The Food Safety Information Council would like to thank their members Symbio and Cater Care for sponsoring this research and educational material.

Media contact:

Lydia Buchtmann, Food Safety Information Council, 0407 626 688 or