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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

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - 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)

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2021-10-31

Foodborne illness caused by microorganisms represents a significant health and economic burden. World Health Organisation has estimated that about 23 million people suffer from foodborne illness in Europe each year and nearly 40% of food-borne outbreaks occur in the domestic setting.
The overall goal of SafeConsume is to reduce the health burden from foodborne illness in Europe by suggesting and developing strategies that will help consumers mitigating risk:
•Tools, technologies and products that stimulate safe practices
•Communication strategies that effectively stimulate adoption and market uptake of safer practices and tools/technologies
•Education programmes increasing skills and knowledge and aiding teenagers to handle food safely
•Dynamic, sustainable and inclusive policy models that stimulate and support national and EU level initiatives
Transdisciplinary working models were developed to enable in-depth exploration of consumer food handling, knowledge and beliefs. Five pathogen/food combinations were highlighted: Poultry (Campylobacter and Salmonella), Vegetables and Fruits (Toxoplasma and norovirus); Eggs (Salmonella), Shellfish (norovirus) and Ready-to-Eat foods (Listeria).
Consumer insights were collected through observation and interviews of households, school students, and teachers as well as a household survey covering 10 European countries and >1200 people. Significant differences across Europe in both awareness of food safety hazards and kitchen practices were found.
Laboratory experiments simulating consumer behaviours, mapping pathogen spread in kitchens and testing myths showed that some consumer practices, lack of proper tools or misconceptions may lead to exposure of consumers to infectious doses of pathogens. Food choices related to perceived quality or safety could also lead to higher risk.
A quantitative microbial risk assessment methodology focused on acute infectious gastroenteritis (AIG) were developed and the contribution of different risk factors on AIG calculated. How different consumer practices contribute to foodborne disease in different regions of Europe were also estimated.
An Opportunity Map (OM) identifying the most important ways to help consumers mitigate risk was developed. Based on the OM, functional specification, and concept evaluation, six product prototypes were developed and evaluated for efficacy and convenience. Market launch strategies for refrigeration appliances were tested in a survey covering five countries.
Based on the country curricula, interviews with teachers and students, and the OM, main learning points for the educational programs were defined. Educational resources including teacher training modules to teach teenagers about food hygiene and safety were developed for six countries and evaluated. The materials improved knowledge and resulted in safer behaviour. The educational resources were made accessible on the corresponding country’s pages of the e-Bug website.
Food safety myths were collected and an engaging food safety myth reduction game developed. The game was tested and found effective for changing food safety beliefs and behaviour. The game is launched in Apple store, Google play and on the project website.
Current communication practices and networks of food safety authorities, non-governmental organisations and other actors involved in risk assessment, risk management and risk communication in the European food safety system were mapped through online surveys and in-depth interviews. The food safety advice from authorities to consumers were collected and systemised to enable evaluation of the current advice. Best practices for policy models and risk communication were suggested, including how to balance food safety and other sustainability issues.
Information about the project and project results have been communicated through the project website, social media, in scientific conferences, scientific papers and in meetings with stakeholders.
In the first 54 months of the project the following progress beyond the state of the art and impact has been obtained:
1. Trans-disciplinary working models combining Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), Theory of Practice, Theoretical domains Network and Design-driven innovation were developed and used. These models will form a platform for future research, innovation and communication.
2. The fieldwork (90 households, > 100 teachers/students), the household survey (9996 households) has resulted in a unique and comprehensive pan-European overview of what people do, know, and believe with regard to food safety and the occurrence of pathogens in kitchen environments. This information provides crucial consumer insight for market actors, the scientific society and authorities working with food safety.
3. The results from the model kitchen laboratory studies demonstrate how common consumer practices and beliefs across Europe contribute to higher risk. Examples of how advice from the media as well as authorities fail to contribute to risk mitigation, either because they were neither risk based nor based on consumer needs, were found. These findings can be used to develop more effective food safety messages, educational materials and tools for keeping food safe.
4. New methodologies for quantifying risk have been developed and enables prioritisation of European citizen’s practices with regard to risk of foodborne illness and efficacy of interventions. When published, these methodologies will form a platform for future risk assessments. The results can be used to form more effective strategies for mitigating risk.
5. The most important intervention opportunities for reducing foodborne illness by changing consumer behaviour, supplemented by functional specifications, design ideas and concepts form a basis for development of effective risk mitigating tools and products for market actors. Six prototype tools and products for domestic use has been developed and evaluated and three products are already planned for commercialisation within the two next couple of years.
7. A computer/smart phone game with documented effect on food preparation and storage practices has been launched at the project website, Apple store and Google play.
8. Educational materials for students and teaching materials with documented effect on food preparation and storage practices and knowledge have been developed for six countries and launched through the well-established e-Bug programme.
9. Strategies for improved collaboration between NGOs, food and health authorities and other stakeholders and for reaching a balance between food safety and other sustainability issues have been identified and will contribute to better risk communication in the future
10. The project has provided scientific knowledge about food borne risk, consumer behaviour, communication and educations strategies and policy, so far through 35 scientific papers in peer-reviewed open access journals, one scientific report as well as a number of conference presentations and papers.
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