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

I am actually a pharmacist by background, but then became a lecturer in Kings College, London, specialising in infection control in hospital and home settings. In 1997 I left Kings to join Unilever where we set up the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) with the support of Unilever. IFH is a non-commercial educational trust, which is working to develop and promote hygiene in home and everyday life settings based on the scientific evidence. I left Unilever in 2003, but continue to run the IFH. I am also now an Honorary Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Photo of Sally Bloomfield

What is your role in SafeConsume?

I am involved in two work packages. In WP5, I was involved in work on consumer perceptions of food hygiene and development of the risk communication food safety game. I look forward to seeing the results of studies being done to evaluate the effect of this intervention on beliefs and intended behaviour. In WP5, I have been using communication strategies developed by IFH to disseminate the findings of the project to scientists, opinion formers, health professionals, the media etc.

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

Practising good hygiene when handling raw foods and eating food with your fingers!

What do you think is the first and most important thing that one can do to protect oneself from pathogenic bacteria in these times?

But isn’t that the point of a risk management approach – which means identifying the critical points and making sure all of them are covered so that we minimise the risk of exposure? This means that no single control point is more important than the others.

What is targeted hygiene and how could targeted hygiene practices be explained or introduced to people so that they became a habit?

Since 1997, IFH has been developing an approach to infection prevention, based on risk management called Targeted Hygiene. Targeted Hygiene means focusing hygiene practices at the times and in the places that matter to break the chain of infection and reduce risk of exposure to harmful microbes. This contrasts with historical approaches equating hygiene with eradicating dirt– incorrectly regarded as the main source of harmful microbes. Thinking about the home in relation to our daily lives, it’s not difficult to identify the times – what we call the 9 key moments - which carry the greatest risk of spreading infection, for example, when using the toilet, handling raw foods, eating food with our fingers, coughing or sneezing, and handling laundry. Having decided on key moments- we then need to identify the critical surfaces we need to clean and/or disinfect to prevent onward spread.

In developing targeted hygiene IFH looks at hygiene from the point of view of the family and the range of issues they have to deal with - not only food hygiene , but also toilet hygiene, laundering, care of pets etc, all of which are based on the same principles. Targeted hygiene provides a framework for developing hygiene understanding which consumers can adapt to any situation in their homes and everyday life.

From your point of view, as microbiologist and health professional, do you think there is any good or bad influence in consumer’s behaviour related to food safety caused by the coronavirus pandemic?

For the last 70 or so years there has been complacency about hygiene in home and everyday life, and increasing reliance on vaccines and antibiotics. Emergence of respiratory viruses in the early 2000s caused concern about a possible global pandemic and prompted governments to draw up preparedness plans. These clearly recognised that, “in the early stages, hygiene will be essential to mitigate spread before other measures can be put in place”. The COVID-19 pandemic, which took off with frightening speed in 2020, has shown just how reliant we are on the hygiene behaviour of the public. Hygiene in home and everyday life is not only important in tackling emergency situations, it is also key to containing the burden of foodborne disease, tackling antibiotic resistance and protecting the growing numbers of people living and being cared for in the community who are at greater risk of infection COVID-19 offers us a window of opportunity to lobby national and international health agencies for greater investment in engaging and guiding the public to take greater responsibility for their own health.

What do you think will be the most important results from SafeConsume?

The ultimate aim is to change consumer food hygiene behaviour to an extent that we see a reduction in food borne diseases. It will be difficult to get a quantitative measure of this. That is why I think the work being done by WP3 is so interesting. This involves using quantitative microbial risk assessment to estimate the infection risk reduction produced by different food hygiene interventions using the data generated by the SafeConsume project and other relevant data sources.