Monday, August 27, 2012

Hand-Washing vs. Anti-Bacterial Hand Sanitizers

by Kelley Lindberg

Every year, when I talk to teachers about protecting the food-allergic students in their classrooms, I’m asked if anti-bacterial hand sanitizer gels and liquids will work to eliminate food allergens from kids’ hands.

It doesn’t.

Teachers love hand sanitizer. They can post a big tub inside the classroom door, and have the kids file past it after lunch. Marvelously convenient. And wonderful at curbing illnesses, since everyone knows classrooms are germ factories.

But hand sanitizers don’t kill the proteins that cause allergic reactions, and it leaves the proteins sitting on the hand.

A 2004 study by Perry et al, “Distribution of PeanutAllergen in the Environment,” actually quantified the success rate of various cleaning methods for removing the most common peanut allergen protein, Arachis Hypogaea Allergen 1 (Ara h 1). For hands, they tested liquid soap, bar soap, commercial wipes, plain water, and antibacterial hand sanitizer. For hard surfaces, like tabletops, they tested common household cleaning agents and dishwashing liquid.

This is what they found:

For hands, the peanut allergen was undetectable after washing with liquid soap, bar soap, or commercial wipes. But plain water left the allergen on 3 of 12 hands. Antibacterial hand sanitizer was the worst performer, leaving the allergen on 6 of 12 hands. (Commercial wipes work because they rub the proteins off the hand. Hand sanitizer gels just move them around on the hand, but don’t remove them.)

For hard surfaces, they found that common household cleaners (they tested 409, Target cleaner with bleach, and Lysol wipes) removed the allergen completely. But liquid dish soap left the allergen on 4 of 12 tables.

From this study, it appears that good ol’ soap or commercial wipes are your best friend for keeping hands allergen-free. So talk to your teacher about using antibacterial cleaning wipes instead of that sanitizer gel – that way they’ll prevent food-allergic reactions as well as sniffly noses! And for tables, counters, desks, doorknobs, phones, or anything else, use commercial cleaners instead of a swipe with a soapy dishrag.

For this same study, the authors also tested 6 preschools and schools (1 of which was entirely peanut-free) to see if peanut allergens were a problem on common surfaces. Out of the 6 schools, they found the peanut allergen on only 1 of 13 water fountains, 0 of 22 desks, and 0 of 36 cafeteria tables.

That’s very encouraging! Of course, the chances of food allergens appearing on school surfaces will vary greatly from school to school depending on their cleaning products, cleaning frequency, etc. But it is good news anyway to know that if the school’s cleaning staff is conscientious about using cleaning materials properly and frequently, the chance of accidental contamination can be greatly reduced.


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