Surprise finding: no major increase in Australians washing their hands since this time last year – Global Handwashing Day 15 October 2020

Australians wash hands of basic hygiene precautions:
– 20% of men and 15% of women still don’t always wash hands after going to toilet.
– Over 40% of Australians don’t always wash hands before touching food.

The Food Safety Information Council today released Omnipoll national research for Global Handwashing Day, showing there has been no major increase in Australians washing their hands since this time last year.
As handwashing was a major component of the national campaign to reduce the risk of catching COVID-19, this lack of improvement was a considerable surprise, according to Lydia Buchtmann, the Council’s Communications Director.

‘This year the greatest improvement was a 4% increase in the number of people who said they always wash their hands after going to the toilet (up from 79% to 83%) but that still means almost 1 in 5 Australians don’t always adhere to this most basic of hygiene messages!’ said Ms Buchtmann.

‘The research indicated that more people are putting themselves at risk of foodpoisoning, as there was a 5% drop in the number of respondents (from 63% to 58%) always washing their hands before handling food.

‘Men were less likely than women to always wash hands after going to the toilet (80% of men versus 85% of women) and before touching food (53% of men versus 62% women).

‘This year Omnipoll also asked how often people washed their hands and used hand sanitiser on the previous day. While 1 in 5 people couldn’t recall how often, the others reported that they washed their hands an average of 7.5 times a day and sanitised them 3.9 times a day. There was also a strong correlation between people’s use of hand sanitiser and concerns about catching COVID-19.

‘While the Food Safety Information Council’s major concern is to reduce the estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning each year, we recognise that good hand hygiene can also reduce your risk of COVID-19 and other viral infections. Health and handwashing go hand in hand, after all. A study by University College London recommends that people should wash their hands 6 to 10 times a day to reduce their risk of catching viral infections such as colds, influenza and COVID-19.

‘You can easily reach this recommended 6 to 10 times a day handwashing recommendation (and reduce your risk of food poisoning) by always washing your hands with soap and running water for 20 seconds and drying thoroughly (or using hand sanitiser if hand washing facilities aren’t available) on these occasions:

  • before handling, preparing and eating food
  • after touching raw meat, fish, shell eggs or poultry
  • after using the toilet, attending to children’s (or others) toileting and changing nappies
  • after blowing your nose
  • after touching a pet
  • after gardening
  • after returning home

‘To remind Australia of the importance of good hand hygiene, the Food Safety Information Council has re-launched an education package today including a video and posters for adults and children that give 4 simple tips for hand washing correctly. The package can be downloaded from our website here and we encourage people to watch the video and to put up the posters at home, in their workplace, or at school,’ Ms Buchtmann concluded.

The Food Safety Information Council would like to thank their members Ecolab and Accord Australasia who made this research possible through charitable donations.

Jan Pacas, Managing Director at Ecolab comments, ‘As a manufacturer of soap, hand sanitisers, and the dispensers that hold them, Ecolab has long been a champion of hand hygiene across many industries and hand-washing is essential to food safety, as well as protection from a range of viruses, including COVID-19.’

A trusted partner at nearly three million commercial customer locations, Ecolab (ECL) is the global leader in water, hygiene and infection prevention solutions and services. With annual sales of $13 billion and more than 45,000 associates, Ecolab delivers comprehensive solutions, data-driven insights and personalized service to advance food safety, maintain clean and safe environments, optimize water and energy use, and improve operational efficiencies and sustainability for customers in the food, healthcare, hospitality and industrial markets in more than 170 countries around the world.

Accord Australasia is the peak national industry association representing manufacturers and marketers of hygiene, personal care and specialty products, their raw materials suppliers and service providers. Their industry’s products are used every day across the nation in homes, public places, commercial premises, institutions, industry and farms.

The research was conducted nationally online over the period August 27-31, 2020, among a sample of 1232 people aged 18 years and over. To reflect the overall population distribution, results were post-weighted to Australian Bureau of Statistics data (Census 2016) on age, sex, area and highest level of schooling completed. We recognise that there are limitations to this research and it may not reflect completely the Australian population, but we did ask the same questions as in 2019.

Media contacts:
Lydia Buchtmann, Food Safety Information Council, 0407 626 688 or

Carrie-Ann Jeffries, Ecolab, 0418 518 903

Craig Brock, Accord, 0422 363 646