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Press Release

Contra Costa Supervisors Declare Handwashing Awareness Week September 17-21

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors today proclaimed September 17-21 Handwashing Awareness Week, underscoring the single most important action people can do to stop the spread of illness.

According to health officials, diseases spread by unclean hands are a leading cause of doctor visits and greatly contribute to missed days from work and school. The common cold alone accounts for 22 million missed school days every year in the United States, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And, as some 130 diners at a local California Pizza Kitchen found out earlier this year, unclean hands can contribute to food-borne illnesses like norovirus, a stomach bug can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Though handwashing violations at local restaurants have held steady since 2007, Contra Costa Environmental Health Director Marilyn Underwood, Ph.D., said "something as simple as handwashing shouldn't cause as many violations as it does."

Underwood said outbreaks at restaurants represent a larger issue throughout the community when it comes to not washing our hands. "We've seen illness outbreaks related to unclean hands occur at schools, health care facilities and in the home," she said in a podcast released today. "We need to create a culture where handwashing is a priority, not only in restaurants but at home, work and everywhere."

The Environmental Health and Public Health Divisions of Contra Costa Health Services have initiated educational efforts to improve food safety and public health, including instructional materials for food facilities and schools, a podcast, video demonstrations. These materials and more are available online at

Communicable Disease Program Manager Erika Jenssen said washing our hands of unwanted germs is well worth the 15 seconds it takes and could end up saving a life.

"It takes 15 to 20 seconds to wash your hands effectively," Jenssen said, adding that people should use warm water and soap. "When you're done, use a clean towel to dry your hands and to turn off the faucet."

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  • Oliver Symonds
  • Community & Media Relations Specialist
  • 925-383-8845