With the E. coli outbreak in Europe still making headlines, the UK’s Food Safety Week has proved to be timely to say the least. Cucumbers may no longer be cool, and bean sprouts may no longer be springing; let’s hope the prognosis for poultry is more positive.

This year, Food Safety Week is focusing on good hygiene in the home. Organized by the government’s Food Standards Agency, Food Safety Week has enrolled the help of food businesses along the food chain to reduce the risk of harmful bacteria making its way to consumers’ plates. Something we can all welcome, especially those of us fond of salad vegetables.

In the run up to Food Safety Week, 2,000 consumers were questioned whether they thought a range of statements about food safety were true or false. The research showed that most were aware of good hygiene in the kitchen, but can still fall foul of some common misconceptions around food safety.

More than half of those questioned believed that appearance and smell are enough to tell if food is safe to eat.

As far as chicken is concerned, when faced with the statement, “You need to wash chicken and poultry before you cook it,” 65% incorrectly believed this to be the case, 29% correctly stated that it was false and 6% said that they were unsure.

When given the statement, “A chicken is properly cooked when the skin/outside is brown”, only 12% believed this to be true, 84% rightly stated that it was false and 4% did not know.

The research highlighted a significant and potentially dangerous lack of knowledge around food safety. Food hygiene myths are widely believed across all sectors of the general public but especially so within the older population. While most respondents saw food poisoning as a serious issue, one in five believed that food poisoning could only occur from eating outside the home.

Pity Spain’s poor cucumber farmers, who are now looking for aid following accusations that the E. coli outbreak was due to their produce. Pointing the finger at cucumbers, it now seems was wrong, but the damage has been done.

While poultry producers may have a duty to reduce contamination of their produce to a minimum, additional efforts to educate the public on food safety, while not a duty, might well be worthwhile. Of course there would be a financial cost to this, but educating the public is probably something that Europe’s cucumber and bean sprout farmers wish that they had done.