Food Safety in the Domestic Environment: An Interdisciplinary Investigation of Microbial Hazards During Food Preparation
It has been established that, to a considerable extent, the domestic hygiene practices adopted by consumers can result in a greater or lesser microbial load in prepared meals. In the research presented here, an interdisciplinary study is reported in which interviews, observations of consumers preparing a recipe, and microbial contamination of the finished meals were compared. The results suggest that, while most consumers are knowledgeable about the importance of cross-contamination and heating in preventing the occurrence of foodborne illness, this knowledge is not necessarily translated into behavior. The adoption of habitual cooking practices may also be important. Potentially risky behaviors were, indeed, observed in the domestic food preparation environment. Eighteen of the participants made errors in food preparation that could potentially result in cross-contamination, and seven participants allowed raw meat juices to come in contact with the final meal. Using a tracer microorganism the log reduction as a result of consumer preparation was estimated at an average of log 4.1 cfu/salad. When combining these findings, it was found that cross-contamination errors were a good predictor for log reduction. Procedural food safety knowledge (i.e., knowledge proffered after general open questions) was a better predictor of efficacious bacterial reduction than declarative food safety knowledge (i.e., knowledge proffered after formal questioning). This suggests that motivation to prepare safe food was a better indicator of actual behavior than knowledge about food safety per se.