Do We Use Science at Home?

Do We Use Science at Home?
Before Easter we had a lab meeting, where everyone presents a paper they found interesting. There were some interesting bioinformatics ones, some yeast genomics, the usual high impact or highly relevant papers. I, on the other hand, chose a different type of paper. It was published in the British Food Journal and it was analysing the quality of messages of food safety in cook books. With Easter just around the corner and the knowledge that likely meals would be turkey or lamb based, I tried to strike up discussion about what kind of science people use at home.

Are you as careful with your knife that has just cut up raw chicken breast as you are with that pipette tip that was just in a tube of *insert sample type here*? Do you wipe down your surfaces before and after with *insert choice of antimicrobial surface cleaner here* like you do in the lab? Is there the need to be just as careful?

I suppose the answer to that depends on what you are doing. If the meat is about to be cooked through in the oven or a frying pan, then no, probably not. If you are going to be using the same knife and chopping board that just cut up meat to then cut off a hunk of cheese to nibble at whilst food is cooking, then yes, probably (although you do have an immune system, so raw meat does not always equal infection).

But this is all from the eyes of a microbiologist. So how do non-scientists get this information? This article highlighted sources such as education, cook books and recipes, friends or family, TV shows and media, and government organisations as sources for safe food preparation advice. A survey in America found that up to a third of participants used cookbooks and recipes for this. You’d think that this would be good, as surely the authors of the books would know safe ways of handling food prone to contamination. However, this study went on to analyse recipes that contained risky foods (meat, raw eggs, fish etc), and searched for safety messages which placed the recipe into a ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ category.

They found that many recipes used subjective doneness indicators, such as colour of meat, flakiness or falling off of bone. Some also used ‘Unusual language to explain doneness included “meltingly,” “soft curds,” and “totally done.”’
This made me think of all the recipes I had ever used. I don’t own a thermometer for measuring food and I don’t remember ever seeing the need for one when using a recipe. Next time you read a recipe, look out for the kinds of safety information and advice it gives you. Is it subjective? Does it use odd language? Does it advise you on preventing cross-contamination? Hopefully it does, or if not, your inner-scientist will kick in and you will avoid tummy problems!

You can find the paper here:

Katrina Levine, Ashley Chaifetz, Benjamin Chapman, (2017) “Evaluating food safety risk messages in popular cookbooks”, British Food Journal, Vol. 119 Issue: 5, doi: 10.1108/BFJ-02-2017-0066

by Jess Friedersdorff