A not-for-profit foundation has called for more of a focus on food hygiene in schools.

The Reckitt Global Hygiene Institute was set up in 2020 to build a body of research that can contribute to decision-making to improve public health. It is funded by a multi-year $25 million grant from Reckitt, a consumer health and hygiene company.

In the past, food hygiene lessons were common in schools as part of a class called home economics. The link between food preparation, safety and health would be explained with information shared on how to protect food from contamination, store it in a way that keeps bacteria at bay and destroy any organisms that could be an issue.

However, in recent years, this subject has diminished, or changed to a biweekly, optional class on food technology. Making it non-compulsory means there are young adults leaving school potentially without the knowledge of how to protect themselves and others from harmful bacteria in the kitchen, according to the institute, which raised the issue on World Food Safety Day.

Building knowledge base

Food hygiene is often self-taught or knowledge is passed on within a household. While some restaurants, hotels and bars offer basic training, formalized education is lacking.

Simon Sinclair, executive director at the Reckitt Global Hygiene Institute, said the situation is “quite astonishing” given how critical food hygiene can be to health and the economy.

“Having knowledge around food preparation standards that include handwashing and sanitizing, when and how food can be reheated and how it should be stored can act as a significant weapon against illness and infection,” he said.

Supporting research into, and the implementation of, hygiene and food safety into the science and health curriculum in schools could safeguard the food and beverage industry while protecting people’s health and wellbeing.

The more people who understand and know how to implement improved food hygiene measures, the less likely there’ll be illness, lost days of work and disruption to the sector, according to the institute.

“Access to more information about where food and hygiene intersects, the most impactful practices people can adopt when preparing and cooking food and how to implement at a wider scale, will only bolster the food and beverage industry as well as the health and science sector,” said Sinclair.

Trade union wants action

Meanwhile, the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) said it was time to clearly identify the main culprits responsible for the consequences of food production that leads to disease and illness.

Comments aimed at raising public awareness of the need for greater care in the rules on hygiene, in the storage and handling of food are misleading if strict measures are not taken to counter the use of pesticides and to combat intensive livestock farming, said the group.

It added there are reports from countries in the southern hemisphere of the use of chemicals banned by the same international agencies that are celebrating World Food Safety Day.

An example was given from Thailand, were traces of dangerous pesticides banned from the market have been found in samples analyzed. Consumption of contaminated fruit and vegetables can have a serious impact on the health of children.

The WFTU said it stood alongside workers and farmers worldwide and strongly denounced the agro-industrial system that is mainly responsible for diseases and contamination. The group called for a ban on all products that are harmful to the health of staff and consumers, and demanded respect for the rights of workers and farmers.

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