ONE in five people is not washing their hands after using the toilet in shopping centres, restaurants, bars, childcare centres and hospitals.
A study of 630 people in 32 locations found 127 did not follow the basic hygiene rule and twice as many men as women were at fault.
The survey was carried out by the Food Safety Professionals Association (FSPA), which is aimed at driving high standards in food safety education.
The results showed:
* One in four teenagers did not wash their hands at all, and of the 75pc who did, just half used soap.
* Although 80pc of young children washed their hands, one-third spent less than 10 seconds doing so and half did not use soap.
* The hospitality sector scored lowest across the survey with just 71pc washing their hands even though they were likely to have contact with food and drink.
* The best at washing were those in health facilities – at 88pc.
Lorraine Oman, spokeswoman for the organisation, said the "quick rinse under the tap" option was more prevalent among teenagers, suggesting a lack of awareness and education around the importance of soap.
"It was also noted that percentage levels of adult women and children were on par, indicating that unlike men, women are leading by example in the hand-washing department.
"Harmful bacteria and microbes thrive in areas of poor hygiene; hands are the number-one vehicle for transmitting infections and viruses such as E coli, salmonella, MRSA and the winter vomiting bug.
"It's essential that the general public wash their hands to stop the spread of infection," she added.