How using your phone while cooking could give you food poisoning

Cropped shot of woman using smartphone while picking up eggs from a delivery box filled with fresh organic fruits and vegetables at home.
Using a smart device while preparing and cooking food is common, but can be risky if you aren't cleaning as you go. (Getty Images)

Our smartphones often follow us wherever we go, including into the bathroom and the kitchen. Whilst the hygiene risks of bringing your smartphone into the bathroom are well-documented, the dangers of having it in your kitchen are less known.

However, tapping on your smartphone while you are handling raw ingredients can be more hazardous than you might think. It’s something home cooks might do without thinking as they look up a new recipe or take notes on their phone.

A new study by SafeFood, a food safety watchdog based in Ireland, found that an alarming number of people don’t wash their hands between handling raw ingredients and touching their devices.

Researchers revealed that a third (33%) of home cooks did not wash their hands after touching raw chicken. This figure jumps to 75% when it comes to handling eggs.

SafeFood warned that bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli - known for causing food poisoning - can spread easily if home cooks don’t wash their hands after handling raw ingredients.

The organisation added that these bacteria can live on smartphones and other devices for more than 24 hours.

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Many people don't think their smart devices are a risk for cross-contamination in the kitchen, a new study shows. (Getty Images)

Researchers found that, although most people surveyed showed good awareness of cross-contamination and appropriate food safety practices in the kitchen, participants considered using devices in the kitchen as "the least likely source of cross-contamination".

This suggested that "awareness and knowledge do not translate into actual behaviours". The study authors added: "A low perceived risk of food poisoning in the home creates a behavioural challenges whereby safety practices in meal preparation are not a priority."

Almost one in five participants continued preparing food immediately after touching their device, while one in three washed their hands with soap after using their device while handling food.

However, only 10% of participants said they clean their devices daily, suggesting that people are aware that devices are a source of bacteria, but many do not engage in appropriate cleaning.

The study also found differences in how people handle food and devices according to age and gender.

Preparing raw ingredients requires plenty of cleaning before, after, and between handling the food and your device. (Getty Images)

Older participants were more likely to wash their hands with soap immediately after handling raw meat and use devices less while preparing or cooking food. They were also more likely to have higher food safety knowledge and a higher level of awareness of "device-borne bacteria".

Women were more likely than men to wash their hands with soap while preparing and cooking food. While women were also more likely to use their devices while cooking or preparing food, they were also more likely to use an antibacterial wipe to clean their device compared to male participants.

These are the steps you should take when preparing and cooking to minimise the risk of cross-contamination and food poisoning:

Wash your hands before and after cooking

Washing your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap, and drying with a clean hand towel, will help stop cross-contamination in the kitchen. You should also do this between handling ingredients and your device, be it a phone, tablet or something else. Don’t touch your phone after handling raw food.

Keep your worktops clean

Wash kitchen worktops with hot soapy water before and after preparing food. Placing your phone on a worktop that has not been cleaned runs the risk of picking up harmful bacteria.

Disinfect your device before and after cooking

SafeFood recommends using antibacterial wipes containing at least 70% alcohol to significantly reduce the contamination on smart device surfaces. Pay close attention to the screen, buttons and edges when cleaning.

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