Rutgers pathogen expert shares opinion of social distancing — and handwashing tips

Donald Schaffner is the extension specialist in food science and a professor at Rutgers University — an expert in research on food safety as well as microbial risk. He is also lead author of a 2017 study that found washing hands with cool water is just as effective as washing with hot water to remove pathogens.

Recently, he has been offering advice and information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Rutgers University
Donald Schaffner of Rutgers University.

In an interview with ROI-NJ, Schaffner shared some of that knowledge on how the public can take it into their own hands — literally — to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the so-called flattening of the curve.

“The most important thing I think people should know is that social distancing works and it’s the best solution to the problem,” he said. “So, what that means is, stay home as much as possible — you should really only be leaving the house for essential things like going to the grocery store, or picking up prescription medicines or other things that you need out of pharmacy.”

He advised that, if you are going to get supplies like food or medicine, that you should take some precautions to prevent yourself from getting infected. Some of those tips include wiping down shopping cart handles with disinfectant wipes and using hand sanitizer.

Schaffner also gave tips on handwashing and sanitation, and how to do it properly and effectively, saying: “If you’re going to wash your hands with soap and water, first point I want to make is the temperature of the water does not matter. … So, the basic steps are, turn the water on, get your hands wet, apply some soap, lather up for 15 to 20 seconds and then rinse the soap off after 15 to 20 seconds, and then dry your hands with either a clean cloth or paper towel. And then you’re done.”

An important thing he wanted people to be aware of was the fact that, in this time of crisis, there is no such thing as an overreaction. Although he said doing things like wiping down takeout bags with disinfectant probably won’t do much, he wouldn’t blame you for trying.

“If people are concerned about bacteria on the outside of packaging materials like takeout bags and things like that, my advice is just take the food out of the takeout bag. And, then, after handling that bag or anything else that you think might be contaminated, just wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.”

Schaffner concluded by advising people once again about the importance of social distancing: “The best advice that I can give is stay away from people. Social distancing works. And it’s very important that we all do it. It’s especially important for those that are elderly.”

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