ASA Adjudication on Reckitt Benckiser plc
Reckitt Benckiser plc
Delta Business Park
24 October 2007
Number of complaints:
Euro RSCG London
A TV ad for Dettol Surface Cleanser showed pieces of fruit and a knife on a toilet seat. The voice-over stated "Fact, your chopping board harbours 50 times more bacteria than your toilet seat. But Dettol Surface Cleanser kills 99.9% of bacteria, including MRSA, E.Coli, salmonella and even the flu virus ...".
1. All three complainants challenged whether the claim "Fact, your chopping board harbours 50 times more bacteria than your toilet seat" could be substantiated.
2. One of the three complainants challenged whether the ad misleadingly exaggerated the dangers posed by bacteria on chopping boards, because he believed that the types of bacteria likely to be present on chopping boards were unlikely to pose a serious risk to health.
BCAP TV Code
1. Reckitt Benckiser (RB) said the "50 times more" claim was based on an independent study in 2004 that examined the cleanliness of several household surfaces using bacteriological sampling methods; they sent a copy of that study. They asserted that the findings of the study demonstrated that, although the toilet seat was in all cases classified microbiologically as clean (i.e. the number of living micro-organisms on the surface was very low), the chopping boards in all cases were classified microbiologically as very dirty (i.e. they had high numbers of living micro-organisms on the surface). They asserted that the results of the tests showed that there were in excess of 50 times more living organisms (total viable count) and coliforms (which indicated recent contamination from faecal origin, raw meat, soil or unwashed vegetables) on the chopping board than on the toilet seat.
RB said the 2004 study, and some additional evidence, had been presented to the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC), who had approved the claim. RB said they were aware that individual households would have different hygiene practices and the levels and types of bacteria present on kitchen and toilet surfaces would depend on hygiene practices and the use of those surfaces. They argued, however, that there was a body of evidence which supported the fact that harmful bacteria could be found in the home and, in particular, in food preparation areas. They pointed out that raw foods, and in particular raw meats, were a proven source of food borne pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter.
RB referred to a paper from 1998 which, they asserted, demonstrated that the surfaces of chopping boards could be contaminated with pathogenic micro-organisms during use and those micro-organisms could survive for at least four hours and could cross-contaminate fresh vegetables if the same chopping board was not disinfected or decontaminated after use.
The BACC said the claim had originally been approved in May 2004. They said they had considered the evidence at that time and had sent it to their consultant to ensure an independent expert was happy with the claim. They said their consultant had had no doubts that the claim was valid in 2004 and remained convinced by its validity today. They pointed out that RB had accepted that individuals had different home-cleaning practices; however, the BACCs consultant believed the claim would still be true in many households and therefore the BACC believed the claim was not misleading.
2. RB argued that the danger posed by bacteria within food preparation areas was common knowledge. They referred to a review they had carried out of a number of scientific studies that detailed the potential sources of contamination in food preparation (especially raw meat and eggs), the survival and multiplication of those bacteria after contact with food contact surfaces and evidence that those organisms could pose a serious risk to human health, especially through Salmonella and Campylobacter. They also sent a copy of a paper by the International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) called 'The infection potential in the domestic setting and the role of hygiene practice in reducing infection' from August 2002. The paper explained how poor food preparation and unclean chopping boards could lead to infection.
The BACC believed a chopping board was likely to come into contact with many different types of food and, if one of those foods was raw meat, a risk of food poisoning was possible. They believed bacteria like Salmonella were a serious health risk and they believed the ad did not exaggerate the potential dangers of not being hygienic in the kitchen.
The ASA considered that the claim implied chopping boards harboured 50 times more bacteria than toilet seats in most households.
We noted RB had sent evidence to show that the preparation of some food, especially raw meat, could infect a chopping board with bacteria. We also noted the results of the 2004 study showed there were over 50 times more bacteria on the chopping boards tested (taken from the households cupboards) than on the toilet seats. We also noted, however, the study was carried out on only five households in Hertfordshire and those households all included a child under three years old. Because five households in one area was a very small sample and many households did not have children under three years old, we were not convinced that the hygiene conditions of the houses in the study were representative of those in most households. We concluded that the evidence was not robust enough to support the claim.
On this point, the ad breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.1 (Evidence).
We noted the evidence sent by RB showed that chopping boards could be infected with bacteria following the preparation of food, especially raw meat. We also noted, after food preparation, chopping boards had been shown to be contaminated with Salmonella and Campylobacter, both of which could pose a serious risk to health. We considered, however, that it was common knowledge that raw meat could contaminate surfaces with bacteria and that viewers would understand that any surface that had been in contact with raw meat would require cleaning before being used again. We understood cleaning methods would differ in households but considered that viewers were likely to infer from the ad, especially the word "harbours", that harmful and dangerous bacteria would be present on most chopping boards after they had been cleaned normally after use. We also considered that the claim ... including MRSA, E.Coli, salmonella and even the flu virus ..." implied that those bacteria listed, which we understood all posed a serious health risk, would be present on most chopping boards after normal cleaning.
We considered that none of the studies referred to by RB showed that bacteria that posed a risk to health had been found on most chopping boards after they had been cleaned normally. We noted the 2004 study had shown that the chopping boards found in the cupboards of five households had a number of bacteria on them; however, the study did not show that the bacteria found posed a risk to health. We also noted four out of the five chopping boards tested had been either dirty or grubby in appearance; we considered that that was a significant proportion and that it was unclear whether they had been cleaned normally after use. We considered that, because five households in one area was a very small sample, we were not convinced that their hygiene conditions were representative of those in most households. We considered that we had not seen robust evidence to show that bacteria that posed a risk to health, including those listed in the ad, would be found on most chopping boards after they had been cleaned normally. We concluded therefore that the ad misleadingly exaggerated the dangers posed by the bacteria on chopping boards.
On this point, the ad breached CAP (Broadcast) TV Advertising Standards Code rule 5.1 (Misleading advertising).
The ad should not be broadcast again in its current form.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Broadcast)