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By Estes Reynolds
Stop the population explosion: Wash your hands!
Like people, bacteria may be good or bad, depending on what they do to you or for you. And like people, bacteria are here to stay. We can’t get rid of them, so we must learn to live with them. Some bacteria spend their lives in the small folds of the skin, on hair or under fingernails. Others cause body odour. Still others, called pathogens, cause disease.
We’ll call the bacteria normally found on your skin “resident” bacteria. They exist on the skin of normal, healthy people, and are usually not harmful. They’re always there and can’t be removed completely. Other bacteria are transferred to your skin in one way or another. Let’s call these “transient” bacteria. Think for a moment about how many ways your hands have picked up bacteria today.
Your hands do all sorts of things for you. They write, pick up the telephone, handle money, fix meals, dress wounds. Your hands gather bacteria with each job they do. You can remove many of these bacteria by washing your hands and scrubbing your fingernails.
We can’t see individual bacteria without using a microscope. But if they are allowed to grow and multiply on agar, we can see them. Nutrient agar is a special food used to grow bacteria in the laboratory. It contains everything bacteria need to grow and reproduce. If we transfer bacteria to an agar plate and keep it warm (incubate it), the bacteria will reproduce rapidly. There will be so many that we can see them with the naked eye. These millions of bacteria, side by side, are called a colony.

Some simple rules to keep the number of bacteria in our food as low as possible:
•Keep food-handling areas spotlessly clean

•Wash your hands often with soap and water. Be sure to wash them thoroughly after using the restroom, dressing a wound and before handling any food. This will help get rid of transient bacteria that can cause disease
•Don’t handle food with hands that have cuts, bruises or sores on them
•Don’t sneeze or cough on food or in areas where food is being prepared
•Keep your body and clothes clean
•Wear a hair net or a hat when handling food
•Keep rats, cockroaches, flies and other insects out of areas where food is processed, stored, prepared or served
•Don’t use wooden cutting boards — they can’t be cleaned properly
•Be sure cutting tools used on raw food are sanitized before you use them on cooked food
•Don’t smoke, and don’t allow anyone else to smoke, in areas where food is processed, stored, prepared or served

Prepared by Estes Reynolds
Originally prepared by George A. Schuler, James A. Christian and William C. Hurst, Extension Food Scientists
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