Foodborne illnesses are underestimated by young people

Previous research with children, young people and university students across Europe, Australia, Canada and USA suggest a lack of knowledge, concern and perceived susceptibility to foodborne illness. While findings report risky behaviours of young people, there is a distinct lack of qualitative research exploring the determinants of young people’s behaviour, as well as interventions designed to change behaviour. School education of young people allows for targeted education to facilitate a future population of food safety conscious consumers, helping to reduce rates of foodborne illness.

What was the aim of the study?

This study aimed to explore young people’s needs across several European countries in relation to learning about and implementing food hygiene and food safety.

Exploratory research questions included:

  1. What are students taught about food hygiene and safety in schools?
  2. What are the experiences and attitudes of young people towards foodborne illness?
  3. What are the determinants of young people’s food hygiene behaviours?

Key researchers involved in the study

The SafeConsume members involved in this study were Rowshonara Syeda (England), Pia Touboul Lundgren (France), Gyula Kasza (Hungary), Monica Truninger (Portugal), Carla Brown (England), Virginie Lacroix Hugues (France), Tekla Izsó (Hungary), Paula Teixeira (Portugal), Charlotte Eley (England), Noémie Ferré (France), Atilla Kunszabo (Hungary), Cristina Nunes (Portugal), Catherine Hayes (England), Dimitra Gennimata (Greece), Dávid Szakos (Hungary), Cliodna Ann Miriam McNulty (England).

They conducted qualitative interviews and focus groups with students in 2017/18 in four European countries: England, France, Hungary and Portugal. A school national curriculum analysis was also conducted in the same four countries, as well as three additional EU countries involved in the SafeConsume project (Greece, Denmark and Spain).

Cooking and food hygiene viewed as important skills for life and employment

The curriculum analysis identified that there are several similarities in what is taught between the countries for food hygiene and food safety, especially for personal hygiene and keeping work areas clean. Food hygiene can be covered in a range of different subjects, including biology, natural sciences and health education. Students in our study were aware of the importance of food hygiene behaviours, but often forgot to follow these; this was magnified by a lack of concern and knowledge about the consequences of foodborne illness. Students perceived that home was the safest environment to eat and cook and distrusted the food hygiene of takeaways, fast food restaurants and buffets. Students had learnt some basic cooking skills, and perceived cooking and food hygiene as important skills for later life and employment. Students enjoyed interactive activities, videos and games to learn about food hygiene. However, practical and interactive food hygiene lessons will be difficult in many schools that do not have educational kitchens for students.

Significance of the study for Schools and Student Food Hygiene Resources

Overall, this work indicated that age-appropriate, up-to-date and evidence-based food hygiene resources are needed that encompass a range of different activities to engage students. It may be difficult to motivate students to comply with hygiene practices if they lack concern about the consequences; therefore, greater awareness will need to be drawn to this, using rules and reminders in resources, such as recipe books and other ways to combine advice with practical training. Resource developers should work with students, policy-makers, and educators to optimise resources and maximise their dissemination.

Investing in a whole-school approach to implement appropriate food hygiene and handwashing behaviours will help to address student forgetfulness, social influences and environmental barriers identified in our study. As students reported being influenced by social media and key market actors, endorsement of resources by celebrities and promotion through social media may be important for widespread use of resources.

Citation and link to article

Syeda, R.; Touboul Lundgren, P.; Kasza, G.; Truninger, M.; Brown, C.; Lacroix Hugues, V.; Izsó, T.; Teixeira, P.; Eley, C.; Ferré, N.; et al. Young People’s Views on Food Hygiene and Food Safety: A Multicentre Qualitative Study. Educ. Sci. 2021, 11, 261.,

Educational support

The findings of this study, combined with the complimentary teachers’ needs assessment, have been used to inform development of:

Lesson plans and additional interactive materials including:

  • User journey
  • Food Safety Vs Food Quality
  • Useful and Harmful Microbes
  • Outbreak Investigation
  • Food Safety Facts
  • Food Safety Pledge
  • Recip-e-Book
  • Debate kit
  • Food Journey Animation

Educator training including:

  • Overview and links
  • Session 1: Teaching food hygiene - An introduction
  • Session 2: Microbiological aspects
  • Session 3: Food labels
  • Session 4: Infection transmission

These materials have been developed with input from partners in France, Denmark, England, Greece, Hungary, Portugal). Webpages have been created to host the translated materials on the corresponding country’s pages of the e-Bug website (