This week’s food safety infosheet from the International Food Safety Network (iFSN) focuses on the effectiveness of hand sanitizers. Questions regarding hand sanitizers, such as, "How effective are hand sanitizers?", "Can hand sanitizers be used as a substitute for hand washing?", and "What should I look for in a sanitizer?" are answered in this infosheet. A sample question and answer from the infosheet follow:
How effective are hand sanitizers?
Research has shown that sanitizers are effective at killing and inactivating most bacteria and viruses. Alcohol-based sanitizers are recommended as a way to help prevent the spread of many common pathogens like tuberculosis and foodborne illnesses such as norovirus. These sanitizers are, however, not as efficient as hand washing in reducing numbers of bacterial spores, protozoan oocysts, and certain non-enveloped (non-lipophilic) viruses. Some of these viruses include HIV, Hepatitis A, and rhinovirus. It has been shown that sanitizers containing moisturizers may lead to the accumulation of more bacteria on your skin.
Past research has suggested that hand sanitizers don’t work as well on visually dirty hands. However, recent research, such as that done by Don Schaffner from Rutgers University, has shown that sanitizers can still significantly reduce the number of bacteria even with debris on the hands.
There is currently no research that shows alcohol-based sanitizers contribute to the development of resistant bacteria.