Nutrition: Cutting Board and Contamination

Abstract

It is understood that food is necessary for keeping alive but there are certain hazards associated with the way food is prepared. Several hazards and food borne diseases are associated with the food preparation practices. Cutting board is a significant tool used during food preparation and the intensity of such hazards depends on the practice being followed. Certain factors such as psychological, demographical and socio-economic have a great influence over such practices. People around the world have different food preparation practices and it is also noticed that age, gender and ethnicity have an effect on people’s perceptions about the related hazards. Income and life style are also significant determinants of food preparation practices. Adopting safe food preparation practice can help in avoiding the hazards and maintaining good health and wellness.

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Introduction

Observance of poor hygiene has been the reason for the occurrence of several food-borne diseases in the past. Even though consolidated efforts are being made by the concerned departments (in various countries), poor hygiene remains a predicament for the health and wellness of people (Tan et al. 2013). It is a common belief that it is difficult to convince the people living in rural areas about hygiene (Behailu et al. 2010). Good hygiene can act as a barricade to the transmission of diseases (Legesse & Ambelu 2004). Over the years, there has been a significant decline in the global death rate (related to food poisoning). The reasons can be attributed to better living standards where nutritious food, better cooking practices, and sanitation system have been possible due to increased incomes (Goldman, Pebley & Beckett 2001). One of the peculiar health problems being faced by travelling children is diarrhea (caused due to the presence of pathogens in food) (Shlim 2005).

Maintaining hygiene is the first step towards health and wellness. Among various other aspects of maintaining hygiene, using clean cutting board in kitchen is very essential. It is quite important to ensure that cutting board used in kitchen is clean so that the risk of food contamination can be minimized. A clean cutting board is essential because it is where all the food preparation is done. Moreover, it is the place where there is maximum risk of spreading harmful bacteria such as ‘salmonella’ and ‘e-coli’. In addition to the normal contamination, there is a risk of cross-contamination as well in which bacteria from one food is transferred to another. This applies to both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. Irrespective of whether the food is being prepared at home or any commercial establishment, all necessary precautions should be taken so that the cutting board is clean before using.

The purpose of this research is to understand the health hazards related to cutting boards, current practices being followed, and precautions that can be taken to ensure clean cutting boards; unhygienic cutting boards can lead to contamination.

Literature Review

Cross contamination between different food products can easily occur due to contaminated cutting boards or other surfaces that come into contact. Most of the food products need to be cut prior to cooking or use. Be it home or any commercial establishment such as a restaurant, cutting boards should always be clean to avoid contamination. In spite of the fact that food contamination is a serious matter, most of the people, especially those who are into food business, are unaware of the hazards associated with unhygienic cutting boards. A survey conducted by Altekruse et al. (1996) revealed that almost 1/3rd of the respondents were not aware of precautions to be taken while dealing with food products for cooking. The survey also suggested that people in the age group of 18 to 29 years were greatly involved in unsafe cooking practices.

On the other hand, women and adults more than 30 years of age showed some understanding of good food-preparing habits. Similarly, Anderson, Verrill and Sahyoun (2011) reported that people above 60 years of age are more likely to follow safe practices while cooking in comparison to those below 60 years. This might be due to better awareness of hygienic cooking habits among the older people. According to Bas et al. (2012), adolescents are vulnerable to food safety habits. They do not have suitable information about food safety and as such, there is an immediate need to include such information in the curriculum. The authors suggest that students should be educated about appropriate safe food-preparing habits. They feel that even though media has a wider reach, government should come out with some relevant publications that might be useful in educating the adolescents about safe food habits.

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Factors affecting consumer behavior

There are several factors that are responsible for consumer behavior pertaining to food safety. Such factors may be divided into three segments: personal, environmental and nature of risk. Personal factors are supposed to be the major ones influencing consumer behavior at home and can be further segmented into three categories: psychological, demographic and socio-economic.

Personal factors

Psychological factors

Not much has been written about the psychological effect on food safety behavior of consumers at home. Nonetheless, Ajzen and Fishbein (2000) and Fischer et al. (2005) have stressed the significance of psychological aspects in influencing consumers to accept and practice food safety measures. According to psychological factors, consumers have an optimistic approach regarding when it comes to experiencing negative effects of not maintaining good hygiene. They believe that they are less prone to the negative effects. Such behavior can be termed as ‘optimistic bias’ (Frewer, Shepherd & Lambert 2003). Generally, people are unable to understand and accept that food preparation can also be hazardous and can lead to contamination (Miles & Scaife 2003).

At the same time, they also have this belief that they are less prone to any harmful effects of not maintaining proper hygiene during food preparation (Raab & Woodburn 1997). A study conducted by Frewer, Shepherd and Sparks (1994) revealed that among the various hazards of food preparation, ten were least perceived. Consumers are of the opinion that the major reason for acquiring diseases (related to food) is consuming poultry products cooked outside home such as in restaurants (Fein, Lin & Levy 1995). Other studies (Williamson et al. 1992) suggest that food contamination occurs in food processing units. As a result of such perception, consumers are not inclined towards changing their food preparation habits (Fischer & Frewer 2008). In spite of such perceptions, it was revealed that almost 80 percent of the food related diseases occurred due to food prepared at home (Cogan et al. 2002, Humphrey et al. 2001).

In addition to the optimistic approach, another factor that comes under the psychological aspects is the illusion of control that can be understood as the propensity of people to consider that they are able to control the hazards of food preparation on which presumably they have no control (Langer 1975). Habit of consumers is another factor that relates to the psychological factors. It becomes difficult to change habits that perceivably have no hazards. Food preparation habit is one of them and is difficult to change because people have been following it for a long time (Fischer & De Vries 2008). Such habits cannot be changes unless the consumers experience any hazardous outcome. As such, habits are considered to be an obstacle in changing food preparation practices. Nonetheless, continuous exposure to food preparation related hazards can influence such habits.

Demographic factors

In addition to the psychological factors, demography also plays an important role in influencing food preparation behavior. Such behaviors differ from place to place and are called demographic factors (Mahon, Cowan & McCarthy 2006). The demographic aspects that influence such change of habits are age (McCarthy et al. 2005), gender (Finucane et al. 2000) and ethnicity (Knight & Warland 2004). Age is considered to be the most significant aspects while understanding people’s perception pertaining to food safety (Boer et al. 2005). Various studies have revealed that elderly people have greater apprehensions about food safety in comparison to the younger generation (Meer & Misner 2000). Further, Lin (1995) suggested that gender was also important in perceiving the risks related to food preparation. Women are more likely to perceive the hazards related to food preparation than men due to the fact that women socialize more (Dosman, Adamowicz & Hrudey 2001). Studies (Johnson 2004; Patil, Cates & Morales 2005) suggested that ethnicity played a crucial role in perceiving hazards related to food preparation. However, Lin (1995) contradicted this belief by suggesting that ethnicity did not have any significant effect on perception of food-preparation related hazards.

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Socio-economic factors

In addition to the psychological and demographic factors, socio-economic factors such as income, level of education, consumers’ knowledge, and life style also play a significant role in developing perceptions about hazards related to food preparation. Studies suggest that the level of income plays an important role in perceptions about hazards of food preparation practices. Consumers with higher incomes tend to have more knowledge about such hazards that those with lower income. Nonetheless, practice of food preparation is also an important determinant of such perceptions. Like for instance, if people from higher income group do not prepare food regularly, they might have lesser tendency to have perceptions about food-preparation related hazards than people from lower income group who prepare food regularly (Yang et al. 1998).

Boer et al. (2005) suggested that, in addition to the age factor, level of education of the consumers also influences people’s perceptions about safe food-preparing practices. It is quite interesting to note that the level of education played a reverse effect; people with lower educational qualification tend to have more understanding about such practices than those with higher educational levels (Patil, Cates & Morales 2005). This statement is true for practices such as cooking and heating. Other studies suggested that people with higher levels of education were less concerned about safety precautions. This might be because people with higher educational levels are optimistic about their capabilities and knowledge. It is considered that there is a void as far as knowledge about food-preparation practices is concerned. Purchasing habits and life style also have influence over perceptions of hazards related to food preparation.

Nature of risk

Nature of risk means the hazards that might take place due to various activities. Such activities have the capability to change the outcomes of human activities. The nature of risk influences people’s perception about the risks and behaviors. Each kind of risk has its own distinctive psychological effect.

Environmental factors

Finally, environmental factors and media also effect human perceptions about food preparation related hazards. Media influences people’s perceptions by communicating different kinds of risks related to food preparation practices. The household environment affects human perceptions about food preparation practices. People living in family structure tend to take more precautions during food preparation than those who live single.

Prevention against contamination

Having discussed the various factors responsible for influencing people’s perceptions about food preparation practices and the hazards associated with them, it is imperative to understand the ways by which contamination and subsequent diseases can be minimized. Vinegar is a good cleaner and disinfectant for cutting boards (Consalvo 2013). Hydrogen peroxide can be used to wipe the cutting board after cleaning it with vinegar. In order to avoid cross contamination, separate cutting boards should be used for vegetables, fruits, and raw meat/poultry. Suppose raw meat or poultry is cut on a cutting board and the same cutting board is used to cut vegetables and/or fruits, there is a risk of bacteria from the meat or poultry entering the vegetables and/or fruits. When separate cuttings boards are used, the bacteria from raw meat/poultry will not be able to enter vegetables and fruits. It is suggested to use color codes for different cutting boards so that there is no confusion. A list of the color, associated with the kind of product to be cut should be pasted in the kitchen for ready reference. Further, in order to remove odor (especially onion and garlic) from cutting boards, fresh lemon should be rubbed on them.

As far as the kind of cutting board is concerned, plastic cutting boards are considered to be easier to disinfect but several grooves develop on the surface that might assist in growth of bacteria. On the other hand, wooden cutting boards are difficult to clean and disinfect but are tough as compared to the plastic ones; deep grooves are not developed, hence microorganisms find it difficult to grow. The kind of wood used for cutting boards also decides the hardness. Referring to Chapman’s recommendation, Shipman (2014) suggests that it is good to use plastic cutting boards for raw meat and poultry and wooden ones for fruits and vegetables.

Research Question

In order to understand the outcome of this research, the following research question needs to be answered:

What are the factors responsible for influencing people’s perceptions related to hazards pertaining to food preparation?

Ethical Issues

The participants will be assured of complete ethical consideration while dealing with the privacy aspect of the provided information. As a standard norm of qualitative research, the study would keep its passionate attention on two ethical issues that are representation of truth as well as confidentiality of the respondent group (Resnik 2011). The truth alignment would assist the researcher to avoid any bias, and the confidentiality would strengthen the freedom of expression by the respondents regarding their perceptions about hygiene.

Method

The data for this study will be collected using qualitative and quantitative methods. Information pertaining to the diseases associated with poor hygiene will be gathered from scholarly resources such as journals, books and online articles. Several interviews will be conducted that will include a pre-formulated questionnaire. The target audience for this survey will be people from the health department and those who are working as food handlers. It is understood that not all the people contacted for the interview would agree to participate. The number of actual respondents is expected to be around 250. Considering this, the researcher proposes to contact at least 300 people from both the sectors. Experience of the respondents matters a lot in this kind of a survey and as such, care will be taken to include people who have more experience in their respective duties. Since the perspective of the people is also to be known, a separate questionnaire for them will also be prepared. The researcher proposes to contact at least 150 people for their opinion.

Instruments/techniques to be used/Resources required

Since the method of data collection will be through interviews, not many resources will be required. A recording device with an attached microphone, a few writing pads, pens, and copies of both the questionnaires is all that will be needed. Average time required for each interview will be 30 minutes and the analysis and discussion (among the research team members) will take another 15 minutes (per respondent). While conducting the interview, the research team members will guide the respondent to understand the questions in-depth and answer accordingly.

Methodology limitations

It is quite possible that due to lack of awareness among people about hygiene, they might not be able to assess the severity of observing poor hygiene. It is also possible that they might not be able to give appropriate answers to the questions. That is why the researcher proposes to include the research team members in the interviews. These members would assist the respondents in understanding the gravity of the topic and the relevant questions. Interviewing the health workers and the food handlers should not be a major hindrance.

Methodology significance/Innovation

Since the topic of this study relates to the health and wellness of the people, it is crucial to include them in the research. Moreover, they can provide useful information because they are the ultimate sufferers. In commercial establishments such as restaurants, the kitchen staff members are the ones who come in direct contact with cutting board and other surfaces. The food handlers are the ones who are responsible for maintaining hygiene and as such they are the main group that needs concentration.

Data analysis strategy

After the completion of the requisite interviews, the information from each respondent will be summarized and categorized. Responses with similar thematic answers will be separated (no duplicate entries will be made). Answers with different themes will be accumulated and a specific theme will be formed. It is important to consider the relation of the respondents with the research group; their perspective, characteristics, and the environment (Bradley & Devers 2007).

Conclusion

In concluding, it is understood that there are various factors responsible for consumer behavior related to food preparation and safety. Such factors can be personal, environmental or nature of risk. Among all the factors, personal factors seem to have the most effect on human perceptions about food preparation practices. Psychological factors (personal) are responsible, to a great extent, for individual behavior and perceptions. The optimistic approach about one’s beliefs can lead to severe repercussions. Even habits that are difficult to change have an influence. Such habits hinder any change in the food preparation practices. Further, age, gender and ethnicity also can influence the way food is prepared. It has been noticed that elderly women have a greater understanding of the effects of food preparation practices on the associated hazards.

Cutting board plays an important role in promoting or diminishing the hazards related to food preparation. It is important to understand the kind of cutting board required for different kinds of food products. Generally, plastic cutting boards are suggested for raw meat and poultry and the wooden ones for fruits and vegetables. Cutting boards are the main source of bacteria growth and as such, it is important to have knowledge of cutting boards and their utilization. If appropriate measures are taken to clean cutting boards prior to and after the cutting process, bacteria growth can be minimized. This would obviously help in decreasing the associated hazards and diseases.

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