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iFSN: Hand sanitizer fact sheet

16.dec.07, Andrew Stormer, International Food Safety Network

16.dec.07, Andrew Stormer, International Food Safety Network
What are alcohol based hand sanitizers?
The term hand sanitizer encompasses many types of gels, wipes, foams or liquid solutions. These products typically contain ethanol, isopropanol or n-propanol in concentrations ranging from 40 to 95 per cent. The alcohol immediately destroys the bacteria and viruses that it contacts. Some sanitizers may also contain a moisturizer to help combat the dryness caused by the alcohol. Because of their ease of use and relative convenience, alcohol-based sanitizers have grown in popularity, and some people even use them as a substitute for hand washing.
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 donít 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.
Can hand sanitizers be used as a substitute for hand washing?
The differences between hand washing and using alcohol-based sanitizers are insignificant concerning pathogenic bacteria. However, hand washing is more effective in the removal of viruses, spores and fungi.† So no, hand sanitizers are not substitutes.† Hand washing is still the champion of clean hands and preventing the spread of infectious diseases.
Which soap you choose will also make a difference in how clean your hands become.† Recent studies have shown that soaps containing antibacterial agents do a better job at destroying colony forming units than plain soap.† However, there is evidence that the overuse of such agents may lead to resistant strains.
What should I look for in a sanitizer?
When shopping for a sanitizer you should look for one containing at least 60 per cent alcohol. A sanitizer with n-propanol is generally only found in Europe, and is slightly less effective against bacteria and viruses than both ethanol and isopropanol. Ethanol is more effective against viruses than isopropanol. Isopropanol is more effective against bacteria than ethanol because it is less volatile. Because he difference between their efficacies is not significant , either one will suffice when used in an adequate concentration.

Colorado State University, SafeFood Rapid Response Network. (2004). SAFEFOOD NEWS. Vol 8 No. 3. Hand Hygiene Revisited: Another Look at Hand Sanitizers and Antibacterial Soap. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (2003). Hand Hygiene
in Retail & Food Service Establishments. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from
Mayo Clinic. (2007). Hand washing: An easy way to prevent infection. Retrieved on November 1, 2007, from
Hand Hygiene Resource Center. (2002). Selecting the right alcohol-based hand rub for your health care facility. Retrieved November 1, 2007, from
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2001). Bacteria Factsheet. Retrieved on November 13, 2007, from
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts About Noroviruses on Cruise Ships. Retrieved on November 13, 2007, from
Schaffner, D.W. and K.M. Schaffner.† 2007. Management of risk of microbial cross contamination from uncooked frozen hamburgers by alcohol-based hand sanitizer.† Journal of Food Protection Volume 70 pp. 109-113. Retrieved on November 26, 2007, from
Fischler, George E.; Fuls, Janice L.; Dail, Elizabeth W.; Duran, Melani H.; Rodgers, Nancy D.; Waggoner, Andrea L. 2007. Effects of Hand Wash Agents on Controlling the Transmission of Pathogenic Bacteria from Hands to Food. Journal of Food Protection Volume 70 pp. 2873-2877. Retrieved on December 5, 2007, from
For more information on alcohol hand rubs or other food safety topics, please contact Doug Powell at 785-317-0560 or visit our website at
Although we strive to make the information on this fact sheet helpful and accurate, we make no representation or warranty, express or implied, regarding such information, and disclaim all liability of any kind whatsoever arising out of use of, or failure to use, such information or errors or omissions on this fact sheet.
© Copyright 2007 Douglas Powell

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