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Study finds differences in domestic food prep practices

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Researchers have studied the relationship between consumer practices, kitchens, and the risk of cross-contamination with pathogens in Europe.

Participants from 87 households in six European countries were observed and interviewed in 2018 during shopping and preparation of a chicken and vegetable meal. Sampling and analyses of microbial pathogens from their kitchens were also performed.

The study in France, Hungary, Norway, Portugal, Romania and United Kingdom involved three consumer groups: pregnant women or family with a child, young single men, and the elderly. In Europe, 40 percent of foodborne outbreaks occur at home, according to a 2018 zoonoses report.

In total, 73 of 761 samples were positive for Campylobacter, 13 of 829 for Salmonella, one of 451 for norovirus and none of 91 for hepatitis A. This included raw chicken, cutting boards, kitchen surfaces, sink, handles, cloths and sponges. Results were published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology.

Campylobacter and Salmonella findings
The highest prevalence of Campylobacter among all sample types was in raw chicken, with 44 of 77 samples positive. Prevalence on raw chicken varied from one of 12, or 8.3 percent, in Norway to 12 of 15 samples positive, or 80 percent, in France and Portugal.

While all participants from Norway and all but one from the UK expressed concern about pathogens, no consumers from Romania and France did and only a third from Portugal mentioned pathogens in chicken.

Researchers said there appears to be a link between risky behavior and low awareness about pathogens on chicken, indicating that education or communication could change behavior and reduce risk.

Campylobacter was found on six of 13 products that had been frozen and appeared to be less prevalent on chicken from supermarkets than other sources.

A total of 829 samples were analyzed for Salmonella. It was only present in seven of 15 raw chicken samples from Hungary. In three chickens, Campylobacter and Salmonella were found.

After food preparation, Campylobacter and Salmonella were isolated from 23 percent of cutting boards from Hungary, Romania and the UK and 8.7 percent in Hungary.

Contamination with Campylobacter to other kitchen surfaces or washing utensils were found in five households. Introduction of Campylobacter to kitchens through chicken was relatively common in most countries, but spread to surfaces other than cutting boards was rare. Campylobacter was recovered from wood, laminate, plastic and stone cutting boards.

Scientists said acquiring a foodborne infection because of cross-contamination from chicken is very unlikely, probably because of the relatively low levels in food combined with food preferences.

Common practices by country
Using the same board and knife for vegetables after preparing chicken and without washing with detergent was only common in Portugal and Romania.

Rinsing chicken in sinks was common in Portugal, Hungary and Romania as was washing vegetables in the same sink. Food safety experts advise against washing raw chicken or meat because microscopic splashes of water can contaminate surfaces.

More differences were found between countries than consumer groups, indicating that practices are shared between generations.

Most people prepared raw chicken before, or simultaneously with salad. Preparing salad before chicken will have a risk-reducing effect but this would require a major change in practices, said researchers.

“Food safety interventions must consider the national food culture, preferences, practices and the prevalence and levels of pathogens in food. Emphasis should be on providing and promoting chicken products with lower risk and safe use of cutting boards.”

Research was funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 initiative. The SafeConsume project runs until April 2022 and has more than 30 partners.

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