Recent analysis of seven beaches across the nation by the University of North Carolina -Chapel Hill and U.S. EPA showed that beachgoers digging in sand were more likely to develop gastrointestinal illness after a day at the beach compared to those not digging in sand. The culprit is E.coli bacteria.
The association with these illnesses was even stronger for individuals who reported being partially covered up in sand. Because children played in the sand more frequently and were more likely to get sand in their mouths, they were more likely to develop gastrointestinal illness after a day at the beach.
E. coli is an indicator of recent sewage contamination and if it is present, pathogens harmful to human health are also likely present. Although beach water is monitored for E. coli as mandated in the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act 2000), beach sand is not currently monitored for contamination.
Thus, it is always a good idea to wash your hands before eating or drinking something while on a beach. A little prevention goes a long way to avoid a great deal of discomfort.