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Children are major at-risk group for foodborne illnesses

By Rachel Arthur+

04-Feb-2014
Last updated the 05-Feb-2014 at 16:41 GMT

children microorganisms hygiene

Youngsters are highly susceptible to foodborne illnesses and practical school lessons should teach pupils about food safety, according to a study in the Food Control journal.

Researchers from the University of Padova and the Institute Zooprofilattico delle Venezie in Italy say although programs on food safety are given to secondary school students and adults, less attention is paid to younger children. 

Early childhood health promotion intervention could be truly effective, particularly if it is able to offer age-appropriate ‘experiences’ rather than pure knowledge,” says the study which explores beliefs on microorganisms.

Proper teaching

One of the goals of the World Health Organization is to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness. Since children are considered a major at-risk group, much work is needed to ensure educational efforts are truly targeting this goal, and changes in children's knowledge and habits correct and improve everyday protective behaviors.

The development and the evaluation of proper teaching methodologies are key to achieve this aim.”

Children are a major at-risk group for contracting microbial foodborne illnesses. Approximately half of the reported cases occur in youngsters, with the majority of these under 15.

They are still developing their immune systems, are more at risk of infection, and don’t understand diet and food safety risks very well.

Practical v theoretical

The study was carried out across 12 Italian schools. It reports practical lessons are better than theoretical approaches when teaching young children about food safety.

Pupils aged nine to 11 were split into two groups. One group did practical experiments, like observing bacterial growth, while they also received theoretical instructions on safe food handling procedures. The other group only received theoretical lessons.

Both groups showed a better understanding of food safety, but the practical group had learned more. “Children in both groups said they were aware of good habits that may prevent contagion: washing their hands and cleaning specifically those areas that usually remain unwashed,” the study said.

However, the practical group was more informed about other practices of prevention, such as hand-washing after touching raw meat, covering one's mouth when sneezing, and storing food in the correct way.

Pupils in the practical group were also better at identifying where microorganisms are found, and good at connecting a microorganism with effects on people and the environment.

Source: Food Control Journal. Volume 33, Issue 2, October 2013, Pages 320-329; via ScienceDirect catalogue . “What programs work to promote health for children? Exploring beliefs on microorganisms and on food safety control behavior in primary schools. ” Elena Faccio, Norberto Costa, Carmen Losasso, Veronica Cappa, Claudio Mantovani, Veronica Cibin, Igino Andrighetto, Antonia Ricci.

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