Illinois Tries to Make Hand-Washing Before Meals at School Mandatory

Kids — don't touch that food unless you've washed up.

On Thursday, the Illinois House passed a bill, 100-14, from Rep. Mary Flowers, a Democrat from Chicago, that would require Chicago Public School school officials to ensure students wash their hands with antiseptic before meals at school, reported The Chicago Sun Times.

Flowers said the proposal would help reduce the spread of illness and, in turn, reduce student absenteeism and improve learning.

"Hand-washing is crucial for public health . . . but we're not doing a good job when it comes to teaching our children that," she said.

Click here to read the Sun Times story

State code already mandates that children be taught proper hand-washing techniques, so the school system thinks the proposal is unnecessary.

"I think our principals and teachers treat that issue with the seriousness that it deserves," said system spokesman Mike Vaughn said. "I don't think they need a piece of legislation to provide that direction."

Most Chicago public school cafeterias already have hand-sanitizing gel and posted instructions on proper hand-washing techniques.

Some legislators thought Flowers' bill was overkill.

"It's a good idea that kids wash their hands before they eat, obviously, but I don't think that's the kind of thing we need to legislate," state Rep. Joe Dunn (R-Naperville) said. "Every good idea doesn't have to be a law. People are responsible for themselves."

The plan now heads to the Senate for consideration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's well-documented that the most important measure for preventing the spread of of pathogens is effective handwashing with soap and water. Handwashing suspends microorganisms and mechanically removes them by rinsing with water.

Click here for more information on hand washing from the CDC

The CDC says proper hand hygiene involves the use of soap and warm, running water, rubbing hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, and close attention should be paid to the nail areas, as well as the area between the fingers. The use of alcohol-based hand antiseptics (hand sanitizers) does not replace the need for frequent and proper hand washing, however, the agency warns.

Many alcohol-based hand antiseptics don't work well against bactreial spores, protozoan cysts and certain non-enveloped viruses, such as noroviruses. But, they do appear to have very good to excellent activity against many bacteria and some enveloped viruses, according to the CDC.