A study in Ireland has highlighted potential risks associated with using smart devices in the kitchen while cooking.

The research examined hygiene habits when using a smartphone or tablet in the domestic kitchen.

One in three participants didn’t wash their hands after touching raw chicken and before touching a smart device. Three-quarters didn’t wash their hands after handling raw eggs and before handling their smart device. 

The study was conducted by Queen’s University Belfast and involved 51 participants who were observed while cooking a meal, including raw poultry and raw eggs, using smart devices.  

Findings from cooking activity

People were asked to prepare a meal of chicken goujons and a side salad while following a recipe provided by researchers on a tablet device. The recipe was available as a video or in written form. Only a fifth of participants cleaned their tablets during the activity, and on all occasions, an unclean cloth or a sleeve was used.

Participants had their hands and personal devices swabbed to analyze for bacteria. During a 30-minute cooking activity, they touched their smart device on average almost six times. After cooking, around 6 percent of pre-cleaned devices were contaminated with potential food-poisoning bacteria.

Observations showed that participants’ food safety behaviors fluctuated, and poor hygiene practices were frequent during meal preparation. Frequency with which people touched the tablet during meal preparation ranged from one to 10 times during the cooking activity.

Using antibacterial wipes containing alcohol can reduce contamination on smart device surfaces.

Microbial analysis found that Salmonella and E. coli could survive on tablet screens for more than 24 hours at room temperature, indicating that such devices could contribute to cross-contamination.

Trish Twohig, director of food safety with Safefood, said: “From searching for recipes to watching cooking tutorials or capturing moments for social media, smart devices like smartphones or tablets have become indispensable tools for many during meal preparation. Given the widespread use of these devices in the kitchen, people should be aware of the possible food safety risks.” 

Focus group and survey results

People were generally able to identify good and poor safety practices; however, they said external factors, such as a lack of time and the presence of children, could influence their behaviors.

A survey of 520 adults in Ireland was also carried out to understand perceptions, attitudes and awareness of food safety when simultaneously cooking and using a smart device.  

Younger participants and females were likelier to use a device while cooking or preparing a meal. There was a low perceived risk regarding cross-contamination from devices and contracting food poisoning at home.

Dr. Mairead McCann, technical executive at Safefood, said: “This new research is a helpful reminder to home cooks of the potential risks associated with smart devices in the kitchen and the importance of good food safety in the home. Following good habits like regular and proper handwashing and cleaning and disinfection of smart devices can help reduce cross-contamination when cooking and using them.”

Tips from Safefood, a group that promotes food safety and nutrition in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, when using phones and tablets in the kitchen, include washing hands, cleaning worktops, and disinfecting smart devices.

Before and between handling ingredients and your smart device, wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, drying with a clean hand towel. Always wash kitchen worktops with hot, soapy water before and after preparing food. Cleaning as you go will help reduce cross-contamination.

Ahead of starting to cook, disinfect your smart device to help reduce potential cross-contamination. Disinfect the device after cooking if you have handled raw ingredients such as meat, poultry, or eggs. Make sure always to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. 

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