Most of our health problems related to food-borne illnesses are caused by five main culprits: the bacteria Campylobacter, Salmonella and Listeria, the Norovirus virus and the Toxoplasma parasite. Because of such pathogens, over 23 million people become ill and 5 000 die from contaminated food in Europe every year. This problem and its solution lie in consumer behaviour, according to the EU-funded SafeConsumE project. It believes that consumers must change their habits to decrease exposure to the pathogens responsible for food-borne illnesses. With the ultimate goal of increasing food safety, SafeConsumE researchers have recently conducted three studies on kitchen hygiene, consumers’ food safety knowledge, trusted information sources and food shopping attitudes. The studies were published in the journal ‘Food Control’.
Clean kitchen counters
The first study discusses the results of an online household food safety survey in 10 European countries whose purpose was to determine Europeans’ motivations for cleaning in the kitchen. According to the survey, in which respondents could tick more than one option, 73 % clean their countertops and chopping boards after they’ve used them, 53 % before preparing food and 43 % whenever they’re dirty. When it comes to the motivation to clean, routine plays more of a role for people over 65 years of age. “There are several reasons why people clean their kitchen surfaces,” noted Prof. Lydia Martens of project partner Keele University in an article posted on the ‘News Medical’ website. “There may be social and cultural reasons, such as wanting things to look clean and tidy. People may want to remove visible dirt because it gives them a sense of disgust, or there may be health-related reasons for cleaning, for instance, to prevent infection.” To see if food spills that could contain harmful bacteria are visible on kitchen surfaces, the researchers created chicken, egg and lettuce food spills on countertops and chopping boards. Spills were found to be more easily detectable on laminate or stone than wood or plastic. Additionally, Campylobacter bacteria died faster than Salmonella, which survived for at least one week on laminate countertops. The conclusion reached was that using materials where spills are easier to see on kitchen surfaces might motivate consumers to clean them, thus reducing the risk of food-borne illness.
The case of Romania
Romania was the focus of the second and third SafeConsumE studies. The second study investigated Romanian consumers’ knowledge of food hazards, awareness of certified labelled food and trusted sources of information. The findings revealed that half of the country’s consumers lack awareness of mycotoxins and pathogens such as Campylobacter and Listeria, but consider food additives and genetically modified organisms to be dangerous. Additionally, while science books are considered trustworthy, information is mainly obtained from family and media. The focus of the third study was the relationship between food safety knowledge, food shopping attitude and food safety kitchen practices amongst Romanian consumers. The survey revealed that Romanians are moderately aware of kitchen hygiene practices. The SafeConsumE (SafeConsumE: Safer food through changed consumer behavior: Effective tools and products, communication strategies, education and a food safety policy reducing health burden from foodborne illnesses) research findings showed that a high level of food knowledge leads to a better attitude towards food shopping and improved food safety practices at home. For more information, please see: SafeConsumE project website
SafeConsumE, food safety, food-borne illness, kitchen, hygiene, food shopping