The hidden dangers lurking in our kitchens: myths, misunderstandings and malpractices!

The long bank holiday weekend is fast approaching. Whether you celebrate Easter or not, many of us will be enjoying meals lovingly prepared by friends and family over the coming break. But who are these meals nourishing more? Us, or the scores of potentially harmful bacteria and other hidden nasties in kitchens across the land?

The author(s)
  • Federica Curcurú Omnibus
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Ipsos polled the British public through our i:omnibus research platform to understand Brits’ habits and beliefs around food hygiene. 

When we asked about food preparation and storage, one of the top potentially harmful habits was people using the same tea towel for multiple purposes, including drying hands and kitchen objects. The data suggest that almost four in ten of us (39%) do this at least “frequently”. Even among those who say they cook and prepare food at home on a daily basis, the proportion of those sharing this habit is 36%, and yet, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), tea towels and cloths are one of the top cross-contamination causes in our kitchens.

Other questionable culinary practices include at least frequently checking our phones whilst preparing food (36%) and storing leftover food in open containers in the refrigerator (19%). Overall, almost one in three (31%) Britons frequently (or always) wash raw chicken before cooking it. Those of us engaging in this practice may wish to heed the FSA’s warning that this practice can cause cross-contamination through splashing bacteria onto hands, clothes, worktops and nearby utensils.

So, why do some of us have these potentially harmful habits? Could this stem from a lack of understanding around basic food hygiene? Well, perhaps. 

We presented respondents with various food hygiene facts and myths. They were asked to state if they believed each was true or false. Six in ten (60%) Britons thought that it’s safer to eat food that has been gradually cooled down to room temperature before refrigerating it, than it is to eat food that has been placed straight in the refrigerator. However, FSA guidance states that harmful bacteria can grow in food that is left to chill slowly, and that it’s best to chill food not served immediately as quickly as possible and then put it in the fridge.

A quarter of Britons (25%) said that the statement “Freezing food kills all harmful bacteria” is true, and just under one in five (18%) appear to believe in the “5 second rule” - selecting “true” when shown the statement: “It is always safe to eat food that has been on the floor for less than five seconds” (both statements are NOT true). A similar proportion (17%) thought that the statement “Washing chicken before cooking it is not always safe, as it can spread harmful bacteria to areas close to the kitchen sink” is false.

Of course, many committing these food-related misdemeanours come away unscathed, but with the FSA estimating that there are over 2.4 million cases of food poisoning every year in the UK, the survey findings are food for thought.

Federica Curcurú, Associate Director at Ipsos says: 

The results show a mixed picture in terms of our habits and understanding around food hygiene and a possible gap between common knowledge and practises. For instance, nearly nine in ten Brits know they should not use the same cutting board for raw meat and vegetables without washing it in between, yet only 18% always does that. The findings of our research serve as a salutary reminder of the importance to debunk common myths.

Technical note

Ipsos interviewed a representative quota sample of 2,231 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom using its online i:omnibus between 15th-19th March 2024. The sample obtained is representative of the population with quotas on age, gender, region and working status. Data are weighted to the known offline population proportions for age, working status within gender, and for region, social grade and education, to reflect the adult population of the United Kingdom.

The author(s)
  • Federica Curcurú Omnibus

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