A pilot study to explore the perceptions and use of shock tactics to improve handwashing frequency in a small food business operation
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Handwashing behaviours are a simple and effective way to reduce the spread of foodborne illness. In the food industry, handwashing compliance can be difficult to encourage and maintain due to time-constraints and food handler cognitive influences. The purpose of this study was to design a bespoke intervention (poster) incorporating shock tactics to influence handwashing practices in a small food business operation. A review of health, education and handwashing literature informed intervention development. A proxy indicator of handwashing frequency was determined by paper towel counts at the dedicated kitchen hand-sink. Paper towels were counted before and after intervention. Qualitative food-handler (n=7) interviews at the end of the study explored food handler perceptions of the intervention alongside behavioural attitudes and food safety knowledge. Post-intervention, food-handlers expressed their understanding of the consequences of not washing hands as ‘severe’, ‘people can get ill’ which ‘could kill someone’. The design was described as giving a ‘clear’ ‘spot-on’ message which was ‘eye-catching’ and ‘made you think’ about handwashing so that foodborne illness ‘never happens’. Findings indicated a 12.5% increase in paper towel consumption following intervention and a statistically significant effect size (d = 0.80, p = 0.02). The exclusive use of shock tactics as a method to promote handwashing behaviour in the food industry are rare. The poster incorporated photographic images depicting the consequences of food poisoning for the consumer. Short, clear text relevant to food service employees was designed to pique curiosity.
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