Every year, 5,000 Europeans die from diseases contracted from food. Researchers visited people’s homes and discovered both good and bad kitchen habits in different European countries.
Most of us know that we have to be careful about hygiene when preparing raw chicken. We should wash the utensils and our hands after handling chicken, and we should wash or use a different chopping board before chopping the vegetables for the salad.
There is a lot happening at the same time in the kitchen, and it is not always easy to remember to follow good hygiene advice.
‘We have to remember that cooking is a complex social practice that is based more on routinised habits than on food safety advice’, says Researcher Silje Skuland at Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University.
Together with researchers in Norway, the UK, France, Portugal and Romania, she has mapped the shopping, hygiene and cooking habits of 75 European households. This is part of the big European research project SafeConsume, which is concerned with reducing the risk of foodborne diseases in private kitchens.
Everything you want to know
The work has resulted in an 800-page-long report on ‘everything you want to know about how food safety is addressed in everyday lives’, down to the smallest details.
Some of the questions the report answers are:
How do we wash lettuce? How and how often do we wash our hands? How do we wash our knives, chopping boards and other utensils? How do we transport, store and prepare our food? How do culture, habits and access to goods determine what we buy and how we prepare our food?
Comparisons between the five countries give the researchers knowledge about what food habits lead to the spread of bacteria and parasites.
Not just up to the consumers
WHO has determined that 23 million Europeans become ill and 5,000 die each year as a result of bacteria, parasites, allergens or toxins in food. Food’s journey from retail to fork has not been the subject of much research.
Skuland emphasises that consumers are not the only ones responsible for this.
‘It’s not the consumers’ fault that the food they buy in the shop contains Campylobacter bacteria or listeria. There is a tendency these days for consumers to be given the responsibility for fixing both environmental problems and public health challenges,’ says Skuland.
Skuland believes the food should already be safe when it ends up in our shopping bags. However, after the point of purchase consumers can minimise the risk by avoiding contamination and cooking meat well. 40% of cases of foodborne illness are caused by in the domestic setting.
Multitasking and cooking
The researchers went along when people did their shopping and followed them home to their kitchen where they prepared a meal of chicken and fresh vegetables. The goal was to find out how food was handled on its way from the shop to the table, which has