Lisa Ackerley who runs The Hygiene Doctor is one of the scientists working in SafeConsume. In her blog, she posts about food hygiene as well. For instance, you can learn about Norovirus and Campylobacter and get tips to keep the winter bugs away

However, we will also give you the opportunity to get to know her a little bit better, through this interview.

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself, and your professional background?

I am a chartered Environmental Health Practitioner with a special interest in food safety and consumer hygiene. My PhD examined the Health Belief Model and applied it to food safety behaviour. I worked in local government, then academia as a Senior lecturer, and then ran a food safety consultancy business for 28 years.

Now I advise UKHospitality on food safety, act as an Expert Witness for food safety cases and continue to work as “The Hygiene Doctor” on many food safety and environmental hygiene topics.  

My website, blog and social media aims to raise awareness of hygiene issues in simple, practical terms. I regularly work with the mass media to spread the word.

2. What is your role in Safeconsume?

Working with the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) we help to disseminate the project and messages about food safety and environmental hygiene, particularly relating to home hygiene and every day life.

We are about to publicize our White Paper "Containing the Burden of Infectious Diseases is Everyone’s Responsibility. A call for an integrated strategy for developing and promoting hygiene behaviour change in home and everyday life."

3. What do you think will be the most important results from Safeconsume?

a) To have some definitive answers to “urban myths” so that we can have more evidence to show the benefits of hygiene, and determine how people can keep themselves safe.

b) To see how we can design out hygiene mistakes and give people the best chance of keeping safe.

4. What is your best advice to consumer on how to reduce the risks of food borne illness?

I think consumers need to really understand what I call the “journey of the germ” so that they know when to make interventions to prevent illness. Take norovirus - the most prevalent infectious intestinal illness. Many people and even professionals seem to assume there is nothing that can be done to prevent illness, but I disagree!

Hand washing is key, and one of my missions is to get people to understand that their life is literally in their hands.

Don’t eat with dirty hands - you could be ingesting pathogens, and with norovirus you only need one particle. I keep seeing people eating with their fingers on public transport - crisps and snacks etc. - they are not thinking where their hands may have been!  

But when trying to change behavior though you have to consider so much more than just giving out information. You need to consider what people already believe - for example, some people think you need to wash meat and chicken because it is dirty (whereas this is dangerous behavior as it spreads bacterial all over the kitchen), so you have to consider this and work around it. 

One supermarket put a label on chicken “we have washed this chicken so you don’t need to” which is very clever. Equally if people think they won’t get ill, or the likelihood of illness is very remote, they may pay attention to hygiene, particularly if they think as well that even if they do get ill, it will not be very harmful (or some may even think it may help them lose weight, so could see a benefit). 

If people think hygiene will cost them a lot of money or time, that could also put them off, so we need to make sure our ideas are easy to follow, cheap and practical.

I would say make it so easier to be hygienic than unhygienic and that’s where design comes in. Breaking the journey of the germ on behalf of consumers can play a part - self flushing toilets, non-touch soap dispensers and taps, and even washrooms that have audio reminding people to wash their hands to get the germs off. Anti-Bacterial silver in bags for life means that the chain of infection is broken for the next time they use the bag without the consumer knowing about it. 

I believe that targeted hygiene is best to tackle contamination where the intervention would be most effective. For example, disinfection of surfaces after preparing raw chicken, and of course hand washing - at critical times. 

It drives me mad when I see vague advice such as “wash your hands thoroughly / regularly” - WHEN?!!! or “Wash your hands before handling food” - What about AFTER handling raw meat?! 

Another pet hate in this category is government advice about temperature of cooking - always “piping hot” or “juices running clear” - this is not helpful. In a digital age, why not use a thermometer - it takes all the guesswork out?

In my experience people want more prescriptive advice about what to do, when to do it and how to do it, so let’s get down to business and stop messing around!