Outbreaks where food workers have been implicated in the spread of foodborne disease. Part 10. Alcohol-based antiseptics for hand disinfection and a comparison of their effectiveness with soaps

J Food Prot. 2010 Nov;73(11):2128-40. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x-73.11.2128.


Alcohol compounds are increasingly used as a substitute for hand washing in health care environments and some public places because these compounds are easy to use and do not require water or hand drying materials. However, the effectiveness of these compounds depends on how much soil (bioburden) is present on the hands. Workers in health care environments and other public places must wash their hands before using antiseptics and/or wearing gloves. However, alcohol-based antiseptics, also called rubs and sanitizers, can be very effective for rapidly destroying some pathogens by the action of the aqueous alcohol solution without the need for water or drying with towels. Alcohol-based compounds seem to be the most effective treatment against gram-negative bacteria on lightly soiled hands, but antimicrobial soaps are as good or better when hands are more heavily contaminated. Instant sanitizers have no residual effect, unlike some antimicrobial soaps that retain antimicrobial activity after the hygienic action has been completed, e.g., after hand washing. Many alcohol-based hand rubs have antimicrobial agents added to them, but each formulation must be evaluated against the target pathogens in the environment of concern before being considered for use. Wipes also are widely used for quick cleanups of hands, other body parts, and surfaces. These wipes often contain alcohol and/or antimicrobial compounds and are used for personal hygiene where water is limited. However, antiseptics and wipes are not panaceas for every situation and are less effective in the presence of more than a light soil load and against most enteric viruses.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cross Infection
  • Disease Outbreaks / prevention & control
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology*
  • Disinfection / standards*
  • Ethanol
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control*
  • Food Handling / methods
  • Food Microbiology
  • Hand / microbiology
  • Hand Disinfection / standards*
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Restaurants / standards
  • Soaps*
  • Workforce


  • Disinfectants
  • Soaps
  • Ethanol