Surveys show that 30 per cent of all food poisoning occurs in the home. There is therefore a pressing need to find out more about where the risk is greatest, so that this statistic can be reduced.
"The point is not whether everything looks clean and shiny; we should know where danger may lurk and what precautions we must take," says project manager Solveig Langsrud of Nofima Mat.
In collaboration with the National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO), Nofima Mat will be finding out about the population's general level of knowledge about and attitudes to food safety. This will provide a basis for pointing out what the most risky behaviour is. The aim is that this research project should result in guidelines and advice for the authorities and the food industry. The project will be over a four year period and is financed by the Research Council of Norway and the Foundation for Research Levy on Agricultural Products. There will be two scholarships linked to the project, one focusing on microbiology and the other taking a social science angle.
Interviews and monitoring
A great deal has been happening in kitchens in recent decades. Where once the traditional housewife ruled the roost, now the whole family gets involved. The father now has an important role. Families don't always gather around the dinner table, but eat as they come home from various activities. This can often mean that food is left standing and reheated several times.
"To find out what people's habits are, we are using interviews and focus groups, and we will probably be selecting a number of families who will be followed up over a period of time, to find out how they handle food. We will probably be using cameras that the consumers activate themselves when things are happening in the kitchen," continues Solveig Langsrud, who is a researcher in microbiology.
Are men the biggest culprits?
A number of studies of people's hygiene habits have been made abroad, but never before in Norway. "A survey carried out in Ireland showed that young, urban men with higher qualifications were the most careless about kitchen hygiene. Many of them live alone and like to make trendy food. They like to experiment with exotic new dishes, but they don't always know how the food should be handled," says Therese Hagtvedt of Nofima Mat, who is one of the project team and a senior consultant in food safety.
Can you give us some examples of risk situations?
"Using the same cutting board for raw meat and salads," says Therese.
"Sour, evil smelling dishcloths might give people a warning," smiles Solveig.
"Not bothering to wash hands," adds Therese.
"Pets on the kitchen surfaces - just think what they might have in their fur," says Solveig.
"Barbecues - if you use the same plate for raw and cooked meat," says Therese.
"Heating things through properly - and cooling them off quickly enough," says Solveig.
The project will indicate the areas where action should be directed. They all agree that shiny, scoured kitchen surfaces may not necessarily be the answer.