People find time to use restroom, but few wash hands properly

You’re standing at the sink of a public restroom, and a woman emerges from a stall and leaves without washing her hands.

If you’re lucky, she’s not your waitress or, even worse, one of the cooks, presuming this is a restaurant or bar.

Often, I’m tempted to ask them why they don’t wash their hands after doing their business, but I’ve never had the guts, fearing I’d get punched .

But I’ve always wondered how many people can’t be bothered to wash up after using the bathroom.

Now I know. And it’s not pretty.

One in 10 don’t wash their hands, they just leave.

The other numbing figure: Only 5 percent wash their hands properly, using soap and washing for 15 to 20 seconds, about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Thanks to a research effort at Michigan State University, those horrifying numbers forever are embedded in my mind.

An earlier study said only 32 percent of food handlers wash their hands when their behaviors made such handwashing required. Sort of wish I didn’t know that.

The study is online, and it’s not pretty.

Twelve researchers spent their time in East Lansing, Mich., bathrooms on and off campus and evaluated 3,749 men and women as they left restrooms. Trying not to look conspicuous, they watched to see how many just ran their hands under water, calculated how long they washed and studied whether the time changes if there was a sign posted or the sink was dirty or clean.

The study confirmed prior research that men are worse at washing their hands than women.

This all matters because not washing hands spreads foodborne illness and infections.

Does the name Firefly Restaurant ring a bell? The original site on Paradise Road has been closed since April 26 and 294 people were infected with salmonella from chorizo.

The Southern Nevada Health District believes the outbreak was due to local cross-contamination in the restaurant’s kitchen. While concluding that because of the timing, four sick employees didn’t appear to be the source of the salmonella, the health department report recommended employees should be “made aware of the heightened importance of hand hygiene through washing with soap and water.” Food service workers also need to be educated about cleaning and sanitizing food preparation services.

You can get salmonella either through eating food with the bacteria or from a person who has a salmonella infection not washing their hands after going to the bathroom.

This isn’t just about the ick factor. It’s about you getting sick and vomiting or having diarrhea — two of my least favorite things.

The Michigan State study confirmed the gender difference. Almost 78 percent of women wash their hands properly using soap. Half of men wash their hands properly while 33 percent of men just wet their hands with water. But the average time washing is a mere six seconds.

One of my peeves is finding there is no soap. That means there is no soap for employees.

If you go to places where the soap is always “empty,” you may be at a place that cares more about cutting costs than keeping you safe.

Of course, you’d have to use the soap for it to mean much.

What I love to see are the moms with toddlers holding their little ones up as they struggle to reach the soap and water, the ones who care enough to teach basics to their children.

Personally, I’d like to see research on why people don’t wash after urinating or defecating.

Meanwhile, I watch and wonder. Twenty seconds gives you time to observe.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at 702-383-0275.