Younger Australians have poorer food safety knowledge than older Aussies, according to a survey.

Research by the Food Safety Information Council (FSIC) found 75 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 said they always washed their hands after going to the toilet compared with 89 percent of those over 50.

An Omnipoll national handwashing survey found only 55 percent of between 18 and 34 year olds always washed their hands before handling food compared with 61 percent of over 50s.

The charity said this is a concern as young people often work as food handlers or have jobs caring for vulnerable groups in the child, aged care and disability sectors and are more likely to have young children of their own.

Australian Food Safety Week theme
The study was released at the start of Australian Food Safety Week, Nov. 14-21, and FSIC urged everyone, especially younger people, to take food safety into their hands and do some basic training.

There are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year that result in 31,920 hospitalizations, 86 deaths and one million visits to doctors.

FSIC has an online food safety essentials course which takes up to an hour and provides a certificate at the end. Courses are endorsed by Environmental Health Australia and adapted for the country from the training organization Highfield e-learning.

Cathy Moir, council chair, said 2020 has been a turbulent year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and, as society moves toward the new normal, it is important to learn more about the science behind food safety.

“We handle food for ourselves and others every day so food safety knowledge is an essential life skill, similar to having a driving license or a first aid certificate. In particular we would like younger people to take this course especially as our consumer research shows poorer food safety among younger people.”

The Food Safety Information Council has also launched a summer campaign called “Food Safety it’s in Your Hands” highlighting how most food poisoning cases are avoidable if food safety practices are followed. It features university students assessing their food safety knowledge and calling on everyone to take the food safety essentials online course.

The Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST) is running a 1-hour free webinar today (Nov. 17). Presenters are Julian Cox, associate professor of food microbiology at UNSW and Robyn McConchie, professor of horticulture at the University of Sydney. The event will be chaired by Dean Mahoney and Fiona Fleming to mark Australian Food Safety Week.

Building on good hygiene because of COVID-19
Food poisoning is more common than believed and cost the Western Australia community about AUD$18 million (U.S. $13.1 million) this past year, with most of it occurring at home, according to the state’s Department of Health.

While most believe they handle food safely, a 2019 survey showed that many people do not know the correct methods, especially when handling eggs and chicken.

Ellen Smith from Rockhampton Regional Council urged residents to take food poisoning seriously.

“Food poisoning is more than a minor stomach upset. It can be life threatening especially for the elderly, pregnant women and their unborn babies and people with compromised immune systems. With summer BBQs and the festive season just around the corner, it is also important to think about our food safety as we entertain our family and friends in our homes and backyards,” she said.

“This year for Australian Food Safety Week 2020, we will be building upon our good hygiene practices established as a result of COVID-19, so we can continue to reduce the amount of foodborne disease. We’d like people to continue the good work by following five simple food safety tips; clean, chill, cook, separate and don’t cook for others if you are unwell.”

Northern Beaches Council replaced routine inspections with free COVID Safety Spot Checks when lockdown lifted in May and shops and restaurants reopened. The New South Wales Government introduced mandatory COVID Safety Plans for food companies.

A COVID Safety Spot Check ensures the business is cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, providing and implementing suitable staff handwashing, keeping food at appropriate temperatures, checks for hazardous food preparation and on pest control measures.

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