According to a study in Norway, people staying in basic cabins were more likely to report illness than those who were at home or in a cabin of high standard.

Nofima scientists investigated how cabin life affected food safety compared to domestic practices.

339 cabin dwellers answered an online questionnaire in late 2018 about infrastructure, appliances, cleaning routines, and food habits at the cabin and at home. Cabins were defined as low, medium, and high infrastructure. People were also asked whether they or anyone in the family had experienced an upset stomach or vomiting during or after cabin stays during the previous 12 months. 

Among respondents, 11 percent of 307 people reported having an upset stomach in connection with cabin visits; 17 percent reported upset stomachs from low-standard cabins, which had no water nor electricity; 14 percent from medium-standard cabins with no running water; and 7 percent from high-standard cabins. Across cabin types, the incidence rate was four times larger in low-infrastructure cabins and 3.1 times larger in medium-infrastructure cabins compared to high-infrastructure ones.

Ten percent of cabins had no electricity source, and 18 percent had no refrigerator. Only 55 percent were equipped with a regular water heater, 65 percent had running water in the kitchen, and 49 percent had a flush toilet.

Contributing factors
Valérie Almli, the senior scientist at Nofima, led the study in which consumers were asked about cabin standards, food and kitchen habits, and cases of illness. 

The three main factors affecting food safety were handwashing and dishwashing hygiene, heat treatment facilities, and refrigeration options. 

“Our study shows that lack of running water is the most significant. This is due to several factors: An important reason is person-to-person transmission. Such infection can be transmitted when washing hands in the same water. Quite a few also do not use soap for handwashing at the cabin. In addition, water quality and possible bacteria in drinking water can be important,” said Almli.

Most high-infrastructure cabins had a refrigerator and a freezer, while less than half of the low-infrastructure cabins had a fridge, and only 15 percent had a freezer. Low-infrastructure cabins also had a smaller food preparation area. In high-infrastructure sites, 9 out of 10 people washed their hands in running water, while only one out of four reported this possibility in medium- and low-infrastructure cabins.

Many consumers reported that handwashing and dishwashing practices are poorer at the cabin than home, especially in medium- and low-infrastructure cabins. Lack of electricity leads to other routines for heat treatment and cooling.

Other significant issues
“If you don’t have running water, it doesn’t help much that you’re proficient in microbiology. It goes beyond hygiene when things are cumbersome, which applies to everyone. At the same time, we see routines that apply at the cabin are often inherited, and many people follow practices that take hygiene into account without thinking about it,” said Almli.

Another tendency is that people in cabins without running water use far more paper towels and wipes for wiping kitchen counters and tables. They also use more disposable tableware. They likely do this because it’s easier, but it is also favorable for kitchen hygiene, found the study.

It is rarer for people in cabins without running water and electricity to eat food after the use-by date. This is probably because they don’t have a refrigerator, so they buy less food each time.

Food consumption differed from home toward safer choices in all cabin types, with fewer chicken-based dishes, smoked fish, soft cheeses, sushi, and mussels, and a higher consumption of grilled sausages and canned foods.

“The results highlight a need for information campaigns on the elevated risk for food poisoning and the need to adapt one’s hygiene practices in cabin environments, and may be useful to food safety authorities in Norway and other countries with a culture of recreational homes,” said scientists.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)