The project’s focus on kitchen habits and COVID-19 influence
The project’s focus on kitchen habits and COVID-19 influence

The project’s focus on kitchen habits and COVID-19 influence

Researchers have looked at food safety measures in kitchens and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kitchen Life 2 is a social research project commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) on behavior in kitchens. The pilot study was completed in July 2021, filming and analyzing 22 households and 14 food businesses. Further work is planned to take place in the summer and potentially autumn this year.

The goal is to identify key behaviors related to food safety in household and commercial kitchens, as well as the factors that may reduce the likelihood of following recommended food safety and hygiene advice.

A literature review of materials from 2013 to 2021 was conducted to help develop behavioral interventions or risk assessment models. Seven expert interviews were also conducted to understand the impact of COVID-19 on food hygiene behaviors.

The review covers risk perception, trust in institutions and the supply chain and kitchen behavior in households and companies. This includes cross-contamination; cleaning, cooking, cooling and thawing and adhering to expiration dates.

COVID impact
Results suggest that there was an increase in hand washing in household kitchens and commercial kitchens, the frequency of cleaning of commercial kitchens and washing of fruits and vegetables in household kitchens due to the pandemic. However, researchers warned that observational studies were necessary to see if reported behavior actually translates into real life.

Making more from scratch in home kitchens and storing more foods as frozen in commercial kitchens can have food safety consequences such as thawing methods, cross-contamination and cooking food at the right temperature and long enough.

Previous studies have shown that people often eat food after the expiration date. In particular, they reported having stale cheese, salad in bags, boiled meat, milk and smoked fish. Those who had cut or skipped meals for financial reasons were also more likely to eat food after the expiration date. This increase in food intake after the expiration date is worrying and needs to be studied further, researchers said.

One interviewee said that good practice in hospitality industry kitchens started due to the pandemic has continued and that hand washing and kitchen hygiene have been improved, including an increased frequency of cleaning. One change was to ask employees not to wear gloves and to improve hand washing practices to prevent cross-contamination.

Another person said it is challenging to change consumer behavior in the kitchen because food safety is not a primary concern for people who believe that their actions do not cause ill health.

Tracking trends during the pandemic
The amount of people who ate certain foods after the expiry date increased significantly during the pandemic, according to other research in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The COVID-19 Consumer Tracking, commissioned by the FSA, ran from April 2020 to October 2021 and has since been replaced by a consumer insight tracker. It looked at food insecurity, food safety behaviors and food problems.

From July 2020 to October 2021, the proportion of people who ate food after the expiry date increased for cheese from 40 to 50 percent, salads in sacks from 37 to 47 percent, milk from 27 to 43 percent, cooked meat from 29 to 42 percent percent and smoked fish from 16 to 24 percent.

Overall, every other respondent who cooks reported having used different cutting boards for different foods “always” or “most of the time.” On average, three out of 10 who cook washed raw chicken are “always” or “most of the time” across the tracker. Food safety experts say it is not a good practice to wash poultry because it easily spreads pathogens around the kitchen. Seven out of 10 respondents reported that they followed the storage instructions on the packaging when the food is opened “always” or “most of the time.”

Concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on the food supply chain were greatest in January 2021, but fell to 36 percent in October 2021. Brexit’s impact on food imports and exports declined from January to October 2021.

Food hygiene concerns when eating out or buying takeaway rose from 38 percent in January 2021 to 46 percent in October 2021.

In December 2020, 26 per cent of respondents reported that they were very or somewhat concerned about the quality of food produced in the UK, this rose to 34 per cent at the end of the tracker in October 2021. More than half of respondents said they were very high or somewhat concerned about the quality of imported food in October 2021.

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