21 May 2014

Food safety and older people: the Kitchen Life ethnographic study

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Foodborne illness is a major public health problem in the UK. Recent increases in cases of listeriosis in older people have focused attention on consumer food-related practices. Previous studies highlight poor relationships between what people know, what they say they do and what they actually do in the kitchen. The aim of the Kitchen Life study was to examine what actually happens in the domestic kitchen to assess whether and how this has the potential to influence food safety in the home. Drawing on a qualitative ethnographic approach, methods included a kitchen tour, photography, observation, video observation, informal interviews and diary methods. Ten households with older people (aged 60+) were recruited across the UK. It was found that trust in the food supply, use of food-labelling (including use-by dates), sensory logics (such as the feel or smell of food) and food waste were factors with the potential to influence risk of foodborne illness. Practices shifted with changing circumstances, including increased frailty, bereavement, living alone, receiving help with care and acquiring new knowledge, meaning that the risk of and vulnerability to foodborne illness is not straightforward.

The research was conducted by the University of Hertfordshire, UK, and commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).

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