Think of everything you touched today. Did you go get gas at a gas station, get money out of an ATM, or went shopping with a cart? Think of every doorknob, every computer keyboard and every phone.

Now, ask yourself: How many times did you wash your hands? Did you wash them before you grabbed that bite to eat at your desk? Did you wash them after you pet your dog?

Did you know that one out of three Americans don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, one out of four adults don’t wash their hands after changing a diaper, and two out of three people don’t wash their hands after sneezing or coughing? On average you come in contact with 300 surfaces every 30 minutes exposing you to 840,000 germs.

With winter and flu season fast approaching, everyone should be reminded of the importance of hand washing. Although the single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated, clean hands and good hygiene are the easiest and most inexpensive ways to prevent spreading influenza, colds and countless diseases.

Hands should be washed before and after preparing food, after blowing your nose, or after using the toilet. In fact, any time you think your hands may be dirty, you should wash them.

Although hand sanitizers are popular today, washing your hands with clean water and soap is still the healthiest choice.

It is also valuable to remember the proper way to wash your hands. After wetting your hands, apply soap and lather for 20 seconds (long enough to sing “Happy Birthday”), making sure to get the soap in between fingers and under nails. Then, rinse your hands and use a towel to turn off the faucet. If possible, you should even use a towel to open the door. Remember, 33 percent of Americans don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and their germs are still on the door handle.

Studies have shown that young people who are taught early about the importance of hand washing missed 51 percent fewer school days from an upset stomach and 24 percent fewer school days from colds and flu.

Because of these statistics, the Independence Health Department offers free, hand washing classes to Independence child care centers. The children are taught the basics of how to wash their hands and then are given the opportunity to practice what they learned. Instructors bring all needed supplies including soap and stickers for the children.

If you would like your child care center to participate, please contact the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7185.

Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Independence Health Department.

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.