Dutch people are paying more attention to hygiene in the kitchen, according to a survey measuring attitudes and habits during the coronavirus pandemic and related lockdowns.

Research by the Netherlands Nutrition Center (Voedingscentrum) looked at how much focus people have been putting on their health. Experts hope the positive changes will continue after the crisis as better hygiene could mean fewer foodborne infections.

A total of 1,030 Dutch people aged 18 years and older took part in the study in late April.

Improved and better washing of hands and food
Seventy percent of participants reported washing their hands more often and/or better before cooking and 65 percent did this before eating.

Almost half indicated that they washed their fruit or vegetables more often and/or better before cooking or eating. There was no difference between men and women but people 65 and older were more likely to agree or completely agree to doing this than those from 30 to 64 years old.

Based on the survey, the over-65s in particular started to pay more attention to hygiene during cooking in recent weeks. Only 39 percent of 30 to 49 year olds agreed or completely agreed that they had paid more attention to hygiene during cooking.

Nearly half of men and women agreed or completely agreed that they had better attention to hygiene during cooking. Those with a partner were slightly more likely than people with children or alone to agree with this question.

The survey only found minor changes in purchasing, cooking and eating behavior after the COVID-19 measures came into effect. Most eat as much as normal and did not report any difference on choosing healthy food. Also, the majority did not eat at other times or eat more often.

Impact on other habits
Roel Hermans, nutrition and behavior expert at the Nutrition Center, said it was not surprising that people indicated little change in behavior as it has been learned and ingrained over the years and despite the social listing and lockdown measures people like to stick to their habits.

One in 10 Dutch people said they had started eating healthier because of more time for such cooking and consciously working on a healthy diet. Some indicated they experienced less unhealthy temptations driven by others or because they no longer eat out.

One in five reported drinking less alcohol than before the coronavirus measures came into force. This was especially true for students.

However, a small proportion has eaten unhealthier due to the situation. Reasons include more unhealthy food temptations at home and boredom. A fifth had begun snacking more, and 11 percent had started drinking more alcohol.

Meanwhile, researchers at the National Food Institute in Denmark are testing a hypothesis that Danes’ increased focus on hand hygiene as well as changes in what they eat and who prepares the food will lead to a decrease in foodborne illness cases.

When official data showing how many people have fallen ill from seven foodborne illnesses during the shutdown become available, researchers will compare them with data from the same period in other years to chart effects of the current, changed shopping and food preparation habits.

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