Nearly half of teenage schoolchildren do not always wash their handsbefore eating, according to a new survey by the UK's Food and Drink Federation. Even amongst those who do wash their hands, almost half - 40 per cent - do not always use soap.
This, the federation claims, is putting a large proportion of the population at risk of food poisoning. It is estimated that there could be as many as 5.5 million cases of food poisoning in the UK each year.
The findings mark the beginning of the foodlink National Food Safety Week, which runs until 15 June 2003.
The survey also found that more than half - 57 per cent - of those surveyed admitted to not always washing their hands before lunch at school. Of these, more than two thirds eat a lunchtime meal with their hands, such as a packed lunch or a burger and chips.
Deputy director general of the Food and Drink Federation, Martin Paterson said:"Kids' hand washing habits are a potential recipe for disaster. Whilst most teenagers understand how food poisoning can be caused, they're not takingthe simple precautions to prevent it.
"Of course teenagers don't want to benannied, but with up to 5.5 million cases of food poisoning a year, weclearly need to keep plugging away with simple food hygiene messages in funand imaginative ways, to remind people of all ages how they can continue toenjoy their food safely."
Hugh Pennington, professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University said:"The best news about food safety is that one doesn't have to be a rocketscientist to do it properly. The bad news is that even a simple andobvious thing like hand washing - which protects incredibly well - is seenby many people as good health theory, but not actually put it intopractice."
Foodlink is organised by the Food and Drink Federation, the voiceofthe UK food and drink manufacturing industry, in association with the Food Standards Agency, the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services, the Departments of Health, Food and Education, the National Farmers Union, the British Retail Consortium and the British Hospitality Association.
Other organisations supporting National Food Safety Week include theDesign and Technology Association, the Institute of Food Science and Technology and the Health Protection Agency.