There has been a great deal of interest in hand sanitizers recently; especially in relation to Covid-19. Hand sanitizers have been used in the food industry and healthcare settings for a long time and it is only really very recently that the subject has landed on the radar of the ‘great unwashed’. So what do we know about them and their use from a food business perspective and how effective is hand sanitizer?
It has been long established science that washing hands with soap (usually liquid hand soap) and under running warm water is the most effective way of cleaning hands. The mechanical action of the rubbing and running water, coupled with the soap’s ability to release dirt and particles helps to remove bacteria and viruses from the skin. In most food businesses (e.g. those preparing food intended for consumption soon after preparation such as restaurants) this, in and of itself, is deemed as a sufficient measure to maintain personal hygiene. In other establishments (such as manufacturing settings or in premises serving vulnerable persons like hospitals or nursing homes) the additional step of applying hand sanitizer is seen as a beneficial second stage.
Hand sanitising should never be used as a substitute for proper hand washing. Sanitizer may be applied, most commonly, after thorough hand washing under warm water and thorough drying using a clean disposable paper towel. Dispensers are usually fixed to the wall next to hand wash basins and refillable. Any hand-contact surfaces or equipment (such as triggers or nozzles) must therefore also be subject to regular cleaning and disinfection. Rubbing of the solution into the hand generally follows a similar format to that suggested for hand washing techniques (so that the whole area of the hand fingers and lower wrist are brought into contact with the sanitizer.
An alcohol content of at least 60% has been shown to be effective against many organisms; check the label to see how much there is. Here is some more advice on hand sanitizers from CDC.