Besides being a representative of Public Health England, who are you Rowshonara Syeda?

I am a Researcher for Public Health England’s e-Bug programme, which teaches children and young people about hygiene, infections, and antibiotics. I have a Masters in Health Psychology and have worked in areas of occupational health and pharmacy.

Meet researcher Rowshonara Syeda, from Public Health England’s e-Bug program

What is your role in SafeConsume?

Public Health England have been leading on work package six of SafeConsume – the developmemt of educational material to support teachers and children in learning about food hygiene and food safety to help combat the risks of contracting foodborne illness. From the very beginning, I have been involved in a needs assessment with researchers from France, Hungary and Portugal to identify student and teacher learning gaps and develop novel and innovative resources for teaching 11-18 year olds. This also includes collaboration with six other EU partners within the SafeConsume project to create a recipe e-book, with traditional country recipes. These recipes are unique in that they have food hygiene instructions, approved by project microbiologists, to help people make each dish safely and learn more about being safe in the kitchen. The idea behind the e-book was to promote safer actions and behaviours in order to reduce foodborne illnesses in the community.

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

Each work package in SafeConsume has something different to add, and the more collaboration we have, the more we can learn from each aspect of the project to help inform our own work packages. For us, it was important to consider the microbiological aspects of food spoilage and contamination, with experiments in this area carried out by work package two, which have been very useful to inform our educational materials, to make sure we are giving the right information to the consumers at all times. These experimental findings would no doubt affect the innovative tools, products, and technologies, which are the focus of work package four to improve tool and kitchen hygiene. Work package one carried out fieldwork in consumer’s homes to understand behaviours and barriers for food hygiene; this helps our work package to understand food preparation in real life and the behaviours and safer actions we should target to mitigate the risk of foodborne illness in the community.

How do you intend to improve e-Bug? What impact do you think it will have on consumers?

We want to make learning accessible and fun for all, engaging with consumers on a global scale. We intend to improve e-Bug and our resources by evaluating our current resources and identifying ways in which they can be made more up-to-date, relevant, and fit well into the school curriculum. We do this by identifying the needs of students and identifying current trends and priorities. For instance, with COVID-19, we have been exceptionally busy in ensuring teachers and students have access to hygiene, infection prevention, and control advice with new guidance and posters.

What is your best advice to consumers on how to reduce the risks of foodborne illness?

Wash your hands well with soap and water before preparing food and after handling raw meat. Also, use seperate chopping boards, wash fruits and vegetables before cooking, make sure meat, especially chicken has been cooked thoroughly by checking there are no pink bits, or by using a temperature probe.

What about hygiene and food safety in a time of coronavirus?

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirm there are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 through transmission from food or food packaging and there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through contact with food or food packaging. However, it’s always important to practice good hygiene when handling food to prevent any foodborne illnesses. When food shopping, you could santitize trolley or basket handles before shopping, wash your hands thoroughly when you get home, and also after putting away your products. Some people choose to sanitize packaging. Fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly under running water, especially if eating raw. More can be found here.

How has the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic affected your activity?

The pandemic has certainly affected my work in evaluating school teaching resources developed for SafeConsume, as all schools have been closed for a time and there is uncertainty about when and how they will re-open and the changes that will take place to allow for them to open safely. However, this has been a chance to increase our activity in other areas, such as supporting educators to teach about hygiene and infections, remotely. See e-Bug’s COVID-19 webpage for our recommended home-schooling resources, as well as age-appropriate lesson plans/activities, posters and our FutureLearn Health Educator e-Learning course which has been popular with educators globally.

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

I think washing hands is really important in these times and always, and learning the correct way to do so. Make sure you wet your hands first, then use enough soap to work up a lather, then clean palm to palm, backs of hands, in between the fingers, backs of the fingers, thumbs, and tips of fingers. All of this should take about 20 seconds.