Unveiling kitchen and food hygiene risk behaviour through innovative research

Centre for Decision Research

Dr Gulbanu Kaptan is an Associate Professor in Behavioural Decision Making at Leeds University Business School. Her research interests focus on judgement and decision-making with a special interest in food choice, designing risk (benefit) communications, and behaviour change interventions related to food consumption and waste. Helen Heard is a Senior Social Science Research Officer at the Food Standards Agency. She joined the FSA’s Social Science team in February 2020, and has recently led on the FSA’s monthly Consumer Insights tracker survey as well as the Kitchen Life 2 behavioural research project. Thomas Mills is also a Senior Social Science Research Officer at the Food Standards Agency. He joined the FSA’s Social Science team in October 2023, having previously worked for two years at the Ministry of Defence on a range of social research projects, including Wraparound Childcare and the Haythornthwaite Review. Kitchen Life 2 was commissioned by the FSA and delivered by Basis Social, with support from Leeds University Business School.

Chef cutting vegetables on a chopping board

Members of Leeds University Business School and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have worked together to examine food safety behaviours in households and food business kitchens.

Through our project – 'Kitchen Life 2' - we set out to explore the nuances of kitchen behaviours by employing motion-sensitive video capture and adding these observations into a searchable database for quantitative analysis.

The study also captured data through surveys, interviews, photographs of fridges, and food diaries to understand the wider context of the footage captured. Fridge and freezer thermometers were used to accurately report appliance operating temperatures.

Most behavioural research on food safety is conducted with citizens through surveys and interviews, reflecting what the citizens say – which is not always the same as what they do. Kitchen Life 2’s novelty lies in its use of motion-sensitive cameras to capture real-time kitchen activities, converting them to a large quantitative data set for analysis. This innovative approach bridges the gap between what people say and what they do.

At the start of the project, Dr Gulbanu Kaptan, Dr Joshua Weller and Dr Rajinder Bhandal, conducted a literature review that identified the key behaviours relating to food safety in domestic and business kitchens. The results informed the scope of the fieldwork, including the key behaviours to focus on when filming in kitchens, and the key behaviours to explore when surveying and interviewing participants.

During the fieldwork, 31 business and 70 domestic kitchens across the UK were recorded for approximately five days, with three days of footage analysed in each kitchen. The seven key behaviours of focus were:

  1. Not washing hands with soap after touching meat, fish and poultry
  2. Reusing a chopping board after preparing meat, fish and poultry
  3. Reusing a tea towel or cloth for multiple purposes
  4. Storing chilled foods at incorrect temperatures
  5. Not reheating leftovers until steaming hot throughout
  6. Not checking use-by dates and consuming foods past use-by dates
  7. The creation of food waste.

Overall, the study shows a variety of high-risk food safety practices regularly occurred in household and business kitchens; for example, the reuse of unwashed chopping boards, and the use of tea towels as an alternative to handwashing. Data captured from fridge/freezer thermometers indicates that half of households and a quarter of food businesses had a fridge that was too warm (above the recommended maximum of 5°C at least once during the filming period).

Although many of these behaviours were not new to the FSA (such as reusing a chopping board after preparing meat, fish or poultry), some behaviours (like using the same tea towels and dishcloths for a variety of purposes) have been covered less frequently in previous research and official guidance.

Findings from this research will be used by the FSA to identify and inform food risk assessments, shape communications (including consumer and business guidance), and determine future research on behaviour change interventions.

Dr Gulbanu Kaptan will be continuing this work as part of a new grant by the Quadram Institute Bioscience, funded by the BBSRC through the Food Safety Research Network, to investigate the prevalence of the outcomes of the Kitchen Life 2 project on a nationally representative UK sample. This project aims to build capability to design interventions for consumer behaviour change when it comes to food safety in the home.

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