Measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19 include guidance on personal and environmental hygiene. Some guidelines related to COVID-19 directly align with or have similarity to evidence-based food safety practices (FSP) taught in nutrition education classes, including handwashing and washing produce before eating.
To understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth handwashing and washing produce before eating behaviors.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
Data were collected from youth (N = 1,098) in grades 3-5 who participated in SNAP-Education (SNAP-Ed) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in Florida. Utilizing common self-report survey measures, baseline measures from 3 years prior to the pandemic and 3 months during the pandemic were compared for handwashing before eating and washing produce before eating. Due to incomplete data collection during the first 8 months of the pandemic, only behaviors from October 20-January 31 intervals (October 2018- January 2021) were compared to control for seasonal differences.
Behavioral measures are based on a frequency scale from 1 to 4 (4 being the most frequent). An independent samples t test was used to compare baseline FSP scores from intervals before and during the pandemic.
No significant difference was found in the frequency of handwashing before and during COVID-19 (3.16 vs 3.18, respectively; P = 0.76). A significant increase was found in the frequency of washing produce before eating before and during COVID-19 (3.14 vs 3.31, respectively; P = 0.008).
This study did not find any significant changes in handwashing frequency during COVID-19, however, a significant increase in washing produce prior to eating was found. Handwashing prior to eating is a current CDC guideline for COVID-19 mitigation while washing produce prior to eating is not (CDC 2021). Changes in lifestyle and/or eating arrangements during the pandemic might explain these findings.