Food Safety Educational Intervention Positively Influences College Students' Food Safety Attitudes, Beliefs, Knowledge, and Self-Reported Practices

By Yarrow, Linda; Remig, Valentina M. et al. | Journal of Environmental Health, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Food Safety Educational Intervention Positively Influences College Students' Food Safety Attitudes, Beliefs, Knowledge, and Self-Reported Practices


Yarrow, Linda, Remig, Valentina M., Higgins, Mary Meck, Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

Foodborne illness is a major health threat in the United States, resulting in economic burdens for individuals and their employers and in severe cases, even death. Statistics support the seriousness of the threat. Each year, food-borne illnesses cause an estimated 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospotalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States (Mead et al., 1999).

Limited research about college students has been published describing their risk of foodborne illness. Previous research has primarily focused on the general population and food industry (Altekruse, Street, Fein, & Levy, 1995; American Dietetic Association, 2003; Cody & Hogue, 2003; Food Safety and Inspection Service [FSIS], 2002; Redmond & Griffith, 2003). Within the limited data focusing on college students, food safety researchers concluded that undergraduate students engage in unsafe practices, including risky food handling and food consumption (Li-Cohen & Bruhn, 2002; Morrone & Rathbun, 2003; Unklesbay, Sneed, & Toma, 1998). A search of the scientific literature found no studies that provided food safety education intervention to improve food safety behaviors of college students.

One purpose of this study was to explore relationships among food safety attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and self-reported practices of current college student in health and non-health majors. An additional purpose was to determine whether an educational intervention could improve variables of interest.

Methods

Subjects

Approval was obtained from the university's Institutional Review Board for Research Involving Human Subjects before commencing the research. Seventy-one college students initiated participation with 59 college students, 38 females and 21 males aged 21-49 years, voluntarily completing all required steps. Subjects with non-health majors had a higher drop-out rate from the study, with 21 of 32 completing all components of the research compared to 38 of 39 health majors. Data were eliminated for the students who did not view the educational modules (i.e., planned intervention). Students were recruited by in-class invitations. The students were seniors, plus one graduate student, living in a house or apartment rather than residence halls or Greek housing. Health majors were enrolled in Human Nutrition 630 (Clinical Nutrition) and non-health majors were enrolled in Mass Communications 645 (Public Relations Campaigns).

Questionnaire Administration and Scoring

A food safety questionnaire (FSQ) previously used by this research team to conduct a telephone survey with older adults was adapted for use with college students. The majority of questions were taken from a preexisting validated scale developed by Medeiros and coauthors (Medeiros, Kendall, Hillers, Chen, & DiMascola, 2001). The university survey system, an online platform for conducting surveys, was used to administer the FSQ. Study participants completed the FSQ three times: preintervention (prior to viewing educational food safety modules), postintervention (up to one week after module completion), and post-postintervention (five weeks after module completion).

The survey questions were grouped by the evaluated dependent variables: food safety attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge, and self-reported practices to include high-risk food intake. Index scales were developed to determine a score for each of the variables. Index score ranges were: attitudes (21-147), beliefs (17-119), knowledge (0-14), three-point self-reported practices scale (9-27), and high-risk food intake (13-39).

Intervention

Interactive instructional materials were developed and pilot tested. A lesson-building program that lets the user create engaging, interactive Web lessons was used (Softch-alk, 2002). The three educational modules included food safety instruction with clip art, animated graphics, flash card activities, quizzes, word seek activities, crossword puzzles, drag-n-drop activities, audio clips, and links to the World Wide Web.

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