By Kate Sweitzer
Traditions run deep. Everything from large family picnics in the summer to evening meals around the dining room table. Each has a routine that has been passed down through generations. Amongst these traditions are habits that may contradict safe food handling.
A barrier to teaching good, safe food habits are these ingrained traditions. For example, the Thanksgiving centerpiece turkey is often left on the table or counter for the duration of the extended meal. What about when we thaw chicken on the counter or in the sink? Or better yet, when we microwave leftovers, but never rotate, stir, or heat until too hot to eat before enjoying. There are many other examples, too numerous to count.
Current safe food handling practices seem foreign to many consumers. How many of us take the temperature (properly) of every burger we cook? Do we even own an accurate food thermometer? What about keeping a thermometer in our fridge? Do we scrub thoroughly for at least 10 seconds every time we wash our hands? Exactly.
Adoption of new habits is difficult, especially when they fly in the face of our upbringing. When teaching others good practices, resistance is ubiquitous.
Common responses I have heard are:
“Dirt is good for me.” or “A little dirt never hurt.”
“This is the way it has always been done.” or “This is what I do.”
“Why do I need to take the temperature, when the color of my chicken changed?!”
“I have not gotten sick yet.” or “I am not always sick so it must not be that bad.”
…or my favorite, “You worry too much!”
Do any of these sound familiar?
They may have a point that I worry too much; however, it is incredibly difficult to listen to consumers become pickier and pickier with what they think is real, safe food, while still practicing dangerous habits in their own kitchens.
Changing these habits is going to take a substantial grassroots effort or a cultural shift. Let’s not let IFT’s new campaign a World Without Food Science, which emphasizes safe, abundant, high quality food, be taken for granted. Ignorance is easy. We can choose to ignore our knowledge or we can use it.
Our challenge as food scientists, as informed consumers, and as children, grandchildren, and friends is to turn around these habits. We need to create a food safety culture for our generation and for our world.
How do we do it? What suggestions do you have to make this change? What can we do now, this year, and this lifetime to transform these habits one person and one family at a time?