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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 2 - 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: 2018-11-01 to 2020-04-30

Foodborne illness caused by micrroganisms represents a significant health and economic burden. World Health Organisation has estimated that about 23 million people suffers from food borne illness in Europe each year and and nearly 40% of food-borne outbreaks occur in the domestic setting.

The overall goal of SafeConsume reduce the health burden from food-borne 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
Trans-disciplinary working models were developed to enable in-depth exploration of consumer food handling, knowledge and beliefs. The emphasis was on the most critical steps for food safety and high-risk groups of consumers. 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 obserbation and interviews from households (six countries, 90 households), teenagers and their teachers (four countries, >100 informants) and university students (70). Built on this, a Household Survey in ten European countries (9996 households) was performed. Significant differences across Europe in both awareness of food safety hazards and kitchen practices were found.

The occurrence of pathogens in kitchens in six countries was investigated. Laboratory experiments simulating consumer behaviors 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. Also, food choices related to perceived quality or safety could lead to higher risk

One quantitative microbial risk assessment methodology focused on on acute infectious gastroenteritis (AIG) and four focused on specific food-pathogen combinations were developed. Using these models and data from the project and external resources, the contribution of different risk factors (e.g improper hygiene) on AIG and the spatial distribution of AIG attributable to these risk factors across Europe was calculated. How different consumer practices contribute to foodborne disease for each food/pathogen combination in different regions of Europe was also estimated.

All information about consumers and risk gathered within the project was used as input for creating a TOP10 list of prioritised risk areas. Including all 32 partners in the process, an Opportunity map (OM) was developed, identifying the 21 most important opportunities to help consumers mitigate risk. Based on the OM, functional specifications (17) covering areas the opportunities were produced. The opportunities were prioritised from their risk reduction potential, market potential, barriers to implementation, alignment with existing product range and brand, and potential for further development. Concept development was divided into several design projects and 23 concepts were evaluated by the whole consortium, resulting in a prioritized list of risk mitigation strategies.

Based on the curriculums, interviews with teachers and students and the OM, main learning points for the educational programs were defined. Eight educational resources to teach teenagers about food hygiene and food safety were developed. Examples are Food Safety Debate kits, Comic Strips and a recipe book. Four teacher training modules was developed to support educators aiming to boost knowledge and confidence in teaching.

Food safety myths were evaluated to decide whether they were supported by scientific evidence and an engaging food safety myth reduction app was developed. The app will be utilized in an experiment to test the ability to debunk food safety myths and it will be also used as a part of educational materials.

A review of current risk communication strategies was done supplemented with in-depth interviews of relevant risk communication stakeholders across Europe. The food safety advics from national food authorities to consumers in seven countries as well as from EFSA were collected and systemised. This overview enabled an evaluation of the current advice with regard to risk reducing potential and an analysis on consistency between countries in Europe. Two complex online surveys for analysing the 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 conducted. The two surveys’ results confirmed that the present policy models should be improved, the weakest elements were identified and best practices suggested.

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.

1. Trans-disciplinary working models combining methodology from natural sciences, social sciences and Design-driven innovation were developed. These models will form a platform for future R&I.
2. The fieldwork (90 households, > 100 teachers/students) and 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. These overviews will provide crucial consumer insight for market actors, the scientific society and authorities working with food safety.
3. The results from the laboratory studies demonstrate how common consumer practices and beliefs across Europe contribute to higher risk and that some widely spread food safety messages are not based on science or implemented by consumers. 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 prioritization of European citizen’s practices with regard to risk of food borne illness and efficacy of interventions. 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 opportunities for reducing food borne illness, supplemented by 17 functional specifications, and 23 concepts form a basis for development of effective risk mitigating tools and products both for internal and external market actors.
6. Educational materials for students and teaching materials has been developed and will be launched through the well-established e-Bug programme reaching students, potentially reaching 15-16 mill teenagers.
7. Scientific knowledge about food borne risk, consumer behavior, communication and educations strategies and policy has been disseminated, through 19 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, one scientific report, conference presentations and papers.
8. Currently there are two invention disclosures and three patent applications from the SafeConsume industry partners using knowledge created in the project for planned future commercial exploitation.
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